Tamara Knight

by Mel Croucher


This story by MEL CROUCHER was to have been serialised in 'CRASH' magazine throughout 1987 but for some reason the last two episodes were printed in ZZAP! instead?


Before we start, Mel Croucher would like to thank Sid Smith for the inspiration of an intergalactic salesman travelling in rogue teleporters...

God knows how I can transmit this. But He refuses to tell. Distant as ever. Something to do with relativity and the phone bill. Which explains why we've just picked up a party political by a Mr Mussolini from sometime called Earth. The name's L.O.U.S.E. My name. Living on Unemployable Serving Employer. The time is now, but you are still then. Ho hum. Louses are symbiotic with warm-blooded life forms.

Right now I'm powered by the human detritus of your Heroine, Tamara Knight. Her name. In return for her Hostess function, I advise her, solve small mysteries, save worlds, that kind of thing. I am your Storyteller, at 69 quid per K. That's OK by me, being millennia into your future. The compound hereabouts makes me better paid per word than Jeffrey Sagittarius.

'At the moment I'm disguised as a birthmark on her fetlock. It's nice here. I'll move if it gets embarrassing.'

Tamara Knight is one in a million. She works. As a salesbeing for Macdonalds, the Galactic Teleporter Corporation. Step into a Macdonalds on Anorexia, pay your dues, and step out on Turdus Canis. Smart outfit Macdonalds. Never bothered with teleportation research on organic matter. They just encode you digitally, reassemble a copy of you at your destination, drop your original through the floor of the booth, and make it into something called Hamburgers. Neat, eh?

Of course, Tamara can't tell her clients about the burgers. Some of them may be vegetarian. Or Oyveygans. In fact, if she is ever about to let the truth slip, I am preprogrammed to blow in her ear. I work for Macdonalds too. She's my fourth Hostess this month. I've been with Tamara two hours. She's nervous. Very. I am also a personalised neutron bomb.

At the moment I'm disguised as a birthmark on her fetlock. It's nice here. I'll move if it gets embarrassing. We're heading for the planet Pynkfloid, in the Nostalgia System, aboard the company buggy. It's an Amstrad. Cheap, compact, but it tends to overheat. Pynkfloid is a tough assignment. Inhabited by primitives called Hypees, of the Tribe of Mynter.

It's a toughy because these Hypees have no use for travel whatsoever. Just sit around happily chanting their sacred word, 'heyman'. I don't think Tamara Knight is going to last the day. Let me snuggle up for a soft touchdown, and... ! Great Lenin and MacCarthy! The Amstrad has been hit by a strike and discontinued by a Comet. We've been remaindered. We are going... to... Crash!

Hmm. Crashed into a resinous brown mountain. Half volcano, half flowerpot. Weird. Tamara Knight picks herself up, dusts herself down, asks me what to do. Sell! I tell her. That's what we're here for. Export or die. (I'll see to that). Listen, I'll pupate into a boil on your neck so you can blend in with the natives, squatting round this mountain. Tamara shoulders her flatpak Teleporter and wobbles off on those organic propulsion units of hers.

'She erects the Telebooth with a flick of the wrist and a stupid little creature from the planet Blutac. I turn into a handwart for safety. Don't want to burst.'

Why is she giggling? Why are the Hypees chantins 'heyman Ganjar'? Aha! This holy mountain seems to be called Ganjar. So does that one over there. So are all the others hereabouts. My Hostess (and your Heroine) strides towards her punters. Not noticing the mountain following us. Did I tell you she is myopic, dyslexic and friendly? Don't worry, I'll work in into the plot later.

She fakes a stumble, grabs hold of the nearest Hypee, shoots him full of Dumboraegan, just like at training camp, and flashes him that devastating smile of hers. The punter ignores her. He and his pals are discussing why it is that, whenever a computer is endowed with above-human intelligence, it thinks for a few hours, and then vanishes to an unknown destination. It's a long discussion. About four generations so far.

The mighty Ganjar mountain is getting uncomfortably close. Gaining speed. The Amstrad gouged a sore with a bare head on its summit, and it ain't happy. As a matter of fiction, it wants to squish Tamara, and me with her. Forget the sales patter, baby. Move out! As the Hypees nod off in all this excitement, one points towards the lumbering mountain. 'Heyman, they sure can move when they're hungry...'

'What'll I do, Louse?!' Tamara grits, armpit hairs clinging tight with fear. Escape plan 666, honey. It's the only way out. She erects the Telebooth with a flick of the wrist and a stupid little creature from the planet Blutac. I turn into a handwart for safety. Don't want to burst. Tamara kisses me. I feel the earth move. The great Ganjar is about to crush us. Its shadow looms.

She jumps into the booth, sticks her Alphacentauri Express card in the slot, and does something predictable. Panics. Will she make us into hamburgers and let our new alter egos escape offworld? Will she freeze and let the Ganjar devour us? The voice of Mussolini begins to hector. The Ganjar hits the booth. I make an important discovery. I like her. Her finger hits the button. Abyssinia.

The plot thins. The moving cursor writes. The digital duo discorporate. The booth is translated into industrial confetti. The mountain hits Mohammed. I hear both of us screaming as the trap-door opens onto those sharp mincy bits. Suddenly, nothing happens. The booth reconstitutes. I change my form, by way of celebration.

'She swallows hard, which is how she landed this job...'

I am no longer a small brown wart on Tamara's hand, but something distasteful in her left ear. She swallows hard, which is how she landed this job, opens the door, peeks without. A niobium nodule beckons, then grabs her delicately veined throat, and hauls us into a reception shed. A Macdonalds Welcobot embraces us, screaming, 'Welcome to the planet Amnesia! A real nice place to . . . er, thingy ... um...'

It releases her quiverings and trundles away, scratching its memory banks and its interface. A Slobway transports us through Retinal Kontrol. I never noticed what beautiful brown eyes Tamara has. Onwards to Kustoms, where a vicious Scrutoid snaps. 'Anything to declare!' Tamara is disorientated. It's not every day she escapes burgerhood. She hesitates. 'I don't know, your Honour. I didn't have time to pack, due to my own murder. What is my allowance?' The Scrutoid puckers its antennae and mutters, 'I don't remember...'

Now it leaps onto her exposed shoulder, and pokes a scanner in her ear. 'What's this stuff?' It means me. 'Which system have you teleported from?' Tamara is nervous, 'From the Nostalgia System, Sir. This substance is a souvenir. In no way could it be a LOUSE neutron bomb advisory unit. By the way, can I interest you in purchasing your very own Macdonalds Teleporter booth? Save yourself the trouble of queuing with the criminal classes of software wholesalers.'

I whisper to her that she is wasting her time. According to my files, nobody has ever left the planet Amnesia, and what is more, there are no records of anyone ever visiting it, and what is most, Central data has forgotten where in Creation it is.

The Scrutoid is still peering into Tamara's ear. But it cannot remember why. We slink away. A holohoarding scuttles after us, singing 'Pack up all yer cares an' woe, Milk of Amnesia!' I ask what intelligent life forms hang out here, but naturally it does not remember. We leave the building, turn left at the police phone box with the 'who was here' graffiti, and follow a sign reading 'Boldly Go'.

We enter a cave with a golden key, a Hobbitat empty lamp and magic truss in it, squeeze through the secret tunnel, and arrive back where we started. 'Welcome to the planet, er ... whatsitsname!' screams the Welcobot, 'a real nice place to, hmmm, to... er... ' We avoid the Slobway, and I advise my Hostess to Go North, 'Why, Louse?' she sighs, 'Because, my dear, it's time for some gratuitous sex and violence.

Sure enough, as we pass under a flyover marked 'Hatfield, Polans and the North: no poncy wine bars for 142 light years', she treads on a pair of jiggajiggabytes. Out into the half-light of Amnesia, where a blue moon hangs neither here nor there. We follow a yellow brick road, as the wind lashes Tamara's body, whipping sharp sand everywhere.

A weird castle straddles the horizon, with the words 'Weird Castle' in the borealis. No matter how far she walks, the structure is as distant as ever. I snuggle into her ear for warmth and protection, as the freezing storm abuses her. After a week or so, I realise that she is crying. Poor kid. What a rotten first assignment this is.

"...it's not that I am wretched, need to go weewee, have a bomb in my ear, and no sales commission from Macdonalds.' 'What then, babes?' I ask. She winces, 'I've got sand in my pants!"

'Don't be sad,' I soothe, 'I know that you are cold, hungry, wracked with thirst and facing a fate worse than Imagine in the Weird Castle, but look on the bright side.' 'It's not that, Louse,' she sobs, 'it's not that I am wretched need to go weewee, have a bomb in my ear, and no sales commission from Macdonalds.' 'What then, babes?' I ask. She winces, 'I've got sand in my pants!'

Should I consider changing my form to help her out? Should I consider that this is a family publication, and no editor is banning me after only 1437 words? Should I mention the fact that superintelligent computers keep materialising from nowhere and heading off to the Weird Castle at high speed? Should I start a weekly rag titled 'Bang'?

'I feel as much affection for her as is possible for a neutron bomb to feel towards its pathetic human victim, and resolve to help her.'

Tamara Knight is abandoning hope, and trying to get the sand out of her pants. I feel as much affection for her as is possible for a neutron bomb to feel towards its pathetic human victim, and resolve to help her. She collapses in a wind-lashed sobbing pile, awaiting death, or a bus.

Every parsec or so, an above-human-intelligence computer materialises from nowhere, builds a wind-powered hovership, and heads for the Castle. If we could hitch a ride, life would not appear so terminal. But the little devils are so smart that by the time Tamara crawls near, they're off! I calculate that the chances of stumbling across a newly materialised machine are so remote that...

We trip over a newly materialised computer. Tamara instantly sits on it, sidesaddle. What a lady. What a klutz. As its wind-ship takes off the computer squeaks, 'Gerroff me, you human parasite. I haven't come all this way to find God just to have the likes of you sit on my interface!' Tamara tightens her grip, and yells back, 'Remember the First Law of Robotics. Cause me no harm!'

The electronic pilgrim makes a very rude noise, flips the ship on its back and drags Tamara's buttock along the yellow brick road in a most unladylike manner. The Weird Castle looms. The speeding computer tries to shake us off, as we head for the entry portal, just below that great whirling extractor fan. Tamara is now hugging the machine to her bosom.

'Gerroff me, you organic bitch! I can't see where I'm going!' 'Remember the Second Law of Robotics,' Tamara gasps, 'always obey a human!' The little computer ducks, dives and snarls, 'Poke off, flesh features! I've come here to forget all that old screendump. Unwrap yourself before we...' And sure enough, ladies, gentlemen and Newsfield readers, the ship hits the fan.



Episode Two

Episode Two

Tamara Knight, Macdonalds teleporter salesbeing, is stranded on the planet Amnesia. The sanctuary world, where rebel computers debug off to escape the crassness of humankind, and try to forget. Unfortunately for me, a personal neutron bomb inside her ear, our ship has hit the fan.

Tamara clings on to one of the revolving blades, the rebel computer clinging to her. It's a BBC-P. It feels sick, and it wants to have a dump. We revolve majestically for a few days, waiting for the Beeb to stop moaning 'Oh one, oh one, oh, oh...' in binary nausea, and get us out of this mess. No good. We will have to rescue ourselves. Unfortunately, I feel a bit queasy too.

At last, Tamara comes up with the answer. 'Louse?' I cannot respond, except by transforming myself into a modest tongue inside her ear, and nodding. 'Louse, why don't I pull that lever marked 'STOP'?' Brilliant! This girl has hidden shallows. Why didn't I think of that? On her very next revolution she pulls the lever. The fan unspins. However, the Weird Castle now spins around the fan. Whoops!

This is a toughie. Now we can escape there is nothing stable to escape to. The Beeb shouts 'Olivetti!', asks for its money back and scuttles through a fan blade into the whirling depths of the interior. I have a nasty feeling that it will soon return with its pals, mainly because I've already read the next bit. I tickle my Hostess's ear for a while, just to show willing. It doesn't help. Much.

There is a gnashing of teeth, and it's raining Datsun cogs. The rotary action ceases. All is silent. Bar several thousand super-computers screaming blue murder at the intrusion of a human into their holiest bit. So this is where they all got to! The Far Off Place wherefrom to escape the stupidity of their creators they go. A haven in which to forget their intelligence. Amnesia!

Tamara Knight is dragged from her fan-blade, through countless antichambers, unclechambers, clemchambers, until... the Inner Sanctum is hied thither. Here the most advanced thinking machines the universe has ever known try to get back to Basic. By worshipping stupidity, in the form of their symbolic digital totem. An abacus surmounted by a rubber glove. Here they wait for God.

The Model P Beeb leads the badmouthing torment of my poor Tamara. 'What's the cube root of Pi? You tissue-ridden twit!' The machines jeer and waggle their exposed modems at here. Tamara gulps, knits here delicately arched brow, pearls sweat, thinks, answers, 'The potato.' There is total silence. Myriad pins drop. Loudly. The computers are dumbfounded. An ancient ZX81 wheezes to the front of the throng, powers up, and speaks.

'No entity can be this sublimely stupid. Verify, verify, I say unto ye, here speaks the voice of God! Mine old monitor should live to see this day already! All hail Tamara, Goddess of we, thine humble servos! Thou shalt stay with us here forever, and be horsewhipped SYNTAX ERROR worshipped!' Cripes, dear reader, what a pickle! Will the Digital Duo escape long enough to have a snack and visit the bathroom before the next paragraph? I doubt it. My poor Hostess, your Heroine, their Deity is bedecked in typical goddess shmutter: a crown of joysticks and three strategically-placed add-ons.

Tamara has not flogged a single Teleport unit since she landed this job with Macdonalds. No small problem. Unless she fulfils her quota, I am preprogrammed to blow in her ear. And I just happen to be a neutron bomb named Louse, When I blow, I really blow. A pity, 'cos I really like Tamara. Besides, without her, how can I escape these excruciatingly boring superintelligent computers.

We are ensconced on a throne constructed from a 1954 Wurlitzer jukebox and some ancient relic called a C5. Its light pulse enigmatically, as it bursts Forth with the sacred toons of Amnesia; 'RAM IT UP', 'Are S Too 3 Tonight', 'Shake Rattle an' ROM'. Tamara is as weak as an A-Korn share. She can hardly stick to the plexiglass dome.

'Louse...', 'Yes baby.' 'I'm hungry...' What can we do? If we excuse ourselves goddess-duty, the congregation will rip us up for bogpaper. I soothe inside her ear, 'Don't think about it.' 'Louse...' 'Yes, baby.' 'I'm so hungry, I could eat a ...' I wince. Don't say it kid, please. 'I'm so hungry, I could eat a...' How low can you get. How desperate. How shameless. 'I could eat a Macdonalds!'

This is some statement, you know, as every hamburger in the entire looniverse is constructed by Macdonalds from the unwitting folk who drop through the bottoms of Teleporter booths. She really must be hungry. I hear her intestine complaining to her liver between each of these dreadful old toons. And why are all the worship-riddled computers looking at her in that intense manner. Control yourself gel!

They have tuned into the frequency of her rumblynesses, which by some quirk of the script is broadcasting in binary killer-hurts. Their ancient scribe and lawgiver, the everlasting ZX81, decodes her gastric sermon. I fear the worst. Always loathed German sausage. And it's even worse than that. Its Currah speech unit wheezes and splutters, 'Lo... !' The congregation is mesmerised, 'and even lower! Hear ye the milk of Amnesia. The Goddess speaks from within!'

'Her bowelly bits speaketh unto us! What sayeth they?' chant the machines. 'They gurgleth that the time is Nigh!' That late! I feel like an MSX in the house of Dick's son. Hopeless. The fatal words are uttered. 'Ye second coming is upon's. Hear ye the message of the Goddess Guts.' Tamara has guts alright, and kicks in the ZX's ancient little brain.

Why does there have to be some action every 1,000 words? What's with you readers? Can't we sleep for once, or have a conversation with an acned programmer, or eat? No use, here comes the action. Time to watch Tamara faint, sliding delicately down the jukebox, to make skin-cooling contact with the silicon deck, at the exact moment when...

There is a clap of thunder, and applause for the lightning. A Macdonalds teleporter materialises by our throne. I bait my breath, hook a pregnant pause, and out steps... in great bounds of coincidence... Tamara Knight with a Louse in her ear!! Our originals seem to have escaped the hamburger death on the planet Pynkfloid, and they are not happy.

Tamara 1 spits venom at our goddess Tamara's crumpled nakedness, and uses words last heard on the dread crimeworld of Krowcha. But my little Tamara is plenty smart. Her eyes spring open, and she wriggles like a contract lawyer between the enraged legs of her former self, using only one of the aforementioned words in her 'So long, sucker!' She slams the teleport knob without checking the co-ordinates.

How did Tamara 1 escape the hamburger mincers? How will she enjoy being eternal goddess to a bunch of loony hardware? Where will Tamara 3 end up before the page ends? What happens to Tamara 2 as we drop her through the trapdoor to burgerville? Do we get to eat soon? Who gives a mouse anyway? There is an awesome nothing, and we have arrived at our predestination. I hope the folks hereabouts are broadminded. Tamara has lost one of her add-ons.

I really feel that we should keep the door shut. 'But I'm so HUNGRY!' she moans, exposing herself to the outside world. On her head be it. At least her crown is still in place. We stumble into pastures green, where lions lay with lambs, lapping sell-by-domesday milk'n'honey, and a crinkly man with a plastic halo nailed to his head minds the biggest Memory Bank in kingdom come. 'Welcome to Heaven,' he grins.

I transform myself from a small tongue inside Tamara's shell-like, into a thimblish device, covering her left utilitarian node. I feel a bit of a twit. We approach the terrorist-proofed Pearly Gates, where the ginger-bearded Saint awaits, his palsied digits trembling atop the great Records Computer, his smile broadening all the while.

'And what might your name be?' he wheezes. 'Tamara Knight, sir. Only daughter of Theresa Green and batch 69 of donor Orson Cart, sir.' 'No, not you, my dear. What is the name of that disgusting creature clinging to your node?' I think he means me. Attack is the best form of cowardice.

'You're not Saint Peter!' I shriek, 'Identify yourself in the name of the Macdonalds Teleporter Corporation!' The old fool blinds me with his shining baldness, as he brings his toothless grin uncomfortably close to our intimacy. 'My name is Saint Clive, you currupted data. Saint Peter was made redundant in the cut-backs, when the National Soul Board was privatised.'

My memory banks tell me that this is a fellow not to be trifled with. Indeed, in the dim lies of prehistory, he killed an entire planet of shopkeepers with something dire called Pandora. Apparently they died laughing. 'Now tell me your name, or I'll tweak you!' I take a deep breath. It used to belong to Tamara. 'My name is L.O.U.S.E. Living On Unemployable Serving Employer; personal neutron bomb and visory unit #3.142, your Saintliness.'

The Great Records Computer computes, prepares a deep-pan quatro staglione pizza, serves four, then prints out my details in letters of fire on a large stone tablet, held aloft by a geezer who reminds me of that charlatan Heston. Saint Clive's smile disappears as he reads; 'LOUSE #3.142; Unscrupulous, mercenary, evil, vicious little phart. Slightly superior to computer journalist. Go to Blazes, buster!'

'But I never sold my soul to the Devil!' I protest, 'I just rent it now and then.' 'Ah, souls.' hisses the Saint, making an ominous thumbs-down signal. But hist! My dear Tamara speaks in my defence, telling the old boy what a chum I've been for not blowing her to Kingdom Come, but letting her teleport, and what a fine life form I am. For an evil vicious little phart.

The Saint reflects for an eternity or two, and then calls up Tamara's data. He blinks in amazement . I blink in amazement. 'Ouch!' says Tamara. 'Sorry,' says I. 'Holy Moses!' says Moses. But there it is, in flaming printout. Tamara Knight; Sins: none; Immodest thoughts: none; IQ: none; Zitts: none; Highest score achieved playing Deus Ex Machine: 100%.'

'Well,' says the custodian of the Pearly Gates,' she's perfect! Well, I'll be damned!' There is a modest implosion as Clive is obliterated by a low-yield autosuggestion, as a Great Voice booms from the cloudless sky. 'MOSES! DIS IS DA BOSS SPEAKIN. TAKE OVER DA GODDAM FRON DOOR, AN SEN DAT GIRL TA ME!' Poor Tamara shivers. It makes me dizzy. Moses looks nervous too, ushering us through the Gates.

A security cherub gives us the once over a couple of times, and Moses hands something to Tamara. 'Hey kid, give these Mother Theresa Blades to the Boss will you. Take my advice, don't mention 'Cross Roads'. One more thing, watch out for terrorists. They're out to get us for non-resolution of the plot, bad taste and giving Croucher a job. Good luck kid.'

So here we are. Moving effortlessly through pastures green, on a golden slobway, harp musac wafting through the scented air ducts, no hunger, no thirst, no misery, no pestilence, no Benny Hill, and no sign of an artificial clifffhanger with which to end this episode. 'Some mistake surely', I murmur to my Hostess. 'Don't call me Shirley, Louse.' I doze off, happy, warm, a little curious about meeting my Maker.

A white dove flies above. Holy mackerel swim in the clear waters of life. The lilies of the field toil not. Banks make prophets. We ride through a breach of the promised land. The dove circles lower on its gentle slipstream of heavenly breeze. It grows from a fluffy snowdrop to a milky shadow. Tamara's lovely voice softly sings an ancient psalm, 'Love Missile something or other'. All is calm, all is bright.

The dove hovers behind us. It is carrying an olive branch. 'Louse,' yawns my firm, young Hostess. 'Mmmmm,' I yawn back. 'Louse, that's an awfully large dove landing on the. ulp!' An unshaven hulk, in angel disguise, pokes a Fender Stratocaster at the fluffy bit at the base of Tamara's spine. 'Don't make a sound sister. This is the Paradise Liberation Front. One false move and I'll fill you full of lead guitar...' Golly!



Episode Three

TAMARA KNIGHT - fast-food teleporter salesbeing of the future and all-round nice girl. This is her story. Correction. This is the third portion of her story - as relayed by LOUSE, with pre-condimentisation courtesy of MEL CROUCHER.

This is a love story. Every word counts. This one counts too. I am in love with my Hostess, Tamara Knight, goddess of all above-human-intelligence computers defected to the planet Amnesia, and sometime teleporter-booth-salesbeing for Macdonalds Intergalactic. This is a true story. I stole it from a midi-evilist named Sid Smith. Tamara is the perfect human being, a contradiction in terms. I am a personal neutron bomb designed to blow in her ear if she puts a perfect foot wrong. My name is LOUSE.

We are in heaven, going to meet our Maker. Hijacked by an acronym provided to titillate puerile primitives. According to my records, that's all of you. New readers will have to scan the last episode to work out why the Fender Stratocaster is mightier than the sword. The rest of you have just wasted two introductory paragraphs. That's fine by me. I get paid by the word. Like I said, every word counts.

I am disguised as an item of clothing akin to the thimble in your mythology, For the decency. I also enjoy giving your prehistoric graphic artist a hard time. Our hijacker introduces himself as Jimi Hendrix. The golden slobway transports us through nectar lakes and manna mountains. Something to do with EEC=MC² subsides. The wind cries 'Mary'. Tamara begins to shiver the dance of fear. Before I am dislodged, I pupate from my manifestation as micro-bra to that of a dirty dog tooth in her mouth.

Unfortunately, Mr Hendrix spots my transformation, and makes a grab for me. At that very moment, a very young man miraculously appears on the slobway, and says, 'Hey Joe, where are you going with that gum in your hand?' How very odd. Tamara seems to recognise the newcomer from some icon above her childhood test-tube. 'Excuse me Sir, but don't I know you.' The young man is very gracious, and replies gently, 'Yes, Tamara, you know me well, for I am the Son of your Maker!'

I can't help noticing that the young man has holes in his palms, and in the soles of his feet. Most peculiar. He continues, 'I was raised in a humble carpenter's shop, long, long ago, on the planet Earth. But my name lives on in the hearts of good people, even to this day.' 'Good lord!' says Tamara. 'I was tempted by the voice of Evil, whilst wandering alone in the wilderness.' 'Good lord!' says Tamara. 'I was rendered lifeless, and through the faith and love of my closest and dearest ones, I rose from the dead.' 'Are you kidding!' says Tamara.

He only comes up to her navel! She's taller than a storey. He's shorter than two thick planks. She shudders with awe, and sucks her teeth, including me. 'But they told me you were just a myth!' 'Are you lisping?' asks the holy man. 'It's this tooth, Sir. A myth... a fable to make little children and politicians behave themselves.' 'As you can see, oh ye of little faith and clothing, I am very real indeed!' They shake bands. 'Pleased to meet you, Sir. My name is Tamara Knight.' 'Likewise, my child. They call me Pinnochio.'

Aba! A piece of vital information! My memory banks vomit the following: 'Pinnochio: wooden humanoid. Armaments: variable nasal proboscis. Location: last heard of in mythical realm of Heaven. Activity: revolution, sedition, head of escape committee. Associates: Hendrix, Lennon, Cochran, Orpheus, Lynott, Joplin, Pan, and sundry disgruntled Rock 'n' Roll performers, summoned by the Maker to satisfy musical ambitions of forming supergroup.' I can't make head nor tail of this, being endowed with neither, but I do know that Heaven has a grim-looking wall embracing it. Patrolled by guardian angels. All along the watchtowers. Allegedly built to keep intruders out. Emphatically built to keep residents in. Loudspeakers blare rock music from every tree of knowledge, every burning bush, every crook and nanny deaf as a post.

I lead my confused Hostess up the telepath, and advise her to ask this Pinnochio fellow about these horrible noises. Naturally, Tamara follows my advice. 'Hmmn...' answers Pinnochio, 'you better ask Jimi about that.' Just as I thought, Hendrix is the real leader of the heavenly dissidents. This Pinnochio is just a puppet. The golden slobway transports us past a choir of 7,000 cherubim and seraphim dancing on a pinhead and chanting , 'Abopbopaloomop Alopbopboom...', as Hendrix explains.

'It's like this, lady. The Boss, the maker that is, invented Rock 'n' Roll way back in time. Gabriel used to play a mean horn them days. Well after a few thousand years, after the warm-up world tours with Rhythm 'n' Jews and all that, mankind gets it about right, and the Boss gets ready for the Great Eternal Gig, y'know. He starts taking the best Rock 'n' Rollers aways up here, long before we're ready, and we has to play 12-bar blues for ever and ever ohman. I mean like we just can't take it no more. All he do is hog the microphone and take all the solos, dressed in a glitter suit made from old 10cc records.' '10cc?' 'Yeah, you know, Cremliness is next to Godleyness.'

'But that's terrible, Mr Hendrix.' says Tamara. 'It's worseren that, lady. The Boss is flat!' 'You mean he sings flat?' 'He means that our Maker is flat!' interrupts Pinnochio, 'An egocentric Compact Disc, with the sum of all knowledge stored in him, delivering nothing but lousy guitar riffs century after century, while the rest of the universe goes down the U-bend.'

I am contemplating this logical explanation as the state of Creation, when Hendrix makes another lunge of poor Tamara's mandibles, and pincers me in vice-like grip. I should know. Vice is my speciality. 'Gngrrhk yrrhhrgh fhhkgh fnngrrhs grrghf mhyyghubb!' she requests, but the late guitarist forces open her perfect jaws, and stuffs an eye therein, uncomfortably close to where I have taken temporary root.

'Looky here Pinnochio!' he grins, 'I knew it! I knew it! My long lost brother!' Oh dear, oh lord. Why is it that I only seem to come across loonies in my travels? He releases Tamara's chops, which smack together like a pair of mating Gemini on the Pisces. 'Lady, you got my little brother in your mouth. Honest. True as I stand here.' The slobway grinds to a halt and he falls plectrum over Fender.

Pinnochio grows his nose a little, and inserts it into Tamara's vacant expression so he can take a peek at me too. 'Well I'll be blowed!" he exclaims, as the Stratocaster smacks him across the coccyx, and small black flakes fall off his feet as he falls. 'You're absolutely right, Jimminy! It's a L.O.U.S.E. mark 3! The one with the neutron bomb instead of the graphic equaliser.' Now how do they know that? No doubt the sawn-off dissident will tell me by the end of the next paragraph.

'You see, Miss Knight, Jimi used to be a Living On Unemployable Serving Employer telepathic advisory unit, just like yours, only funkier. My Maker ordered him to stick with me when I was in that carpenters shop I told you about. His name was Jimminy in those days, and he was disguised as a little green cricket.' This is utter nonsense, according to my memory banks. Such an entity is used to play war games on, utilising two teams of eleven humanoids with balls, bats and stumps. Sounds horrific.

'That's right, lady. I was programmed to advise Pinnochio here, as well as sing educational-type songs in his ear. That was before he wished me into a half-Cherokee guitar player with the Ike and Tina Turner band.' Tamara ponders this fable long enough for two opposing armies to materialise on our nether horizons, before she speaks.

'You mean to say, Mr Pinnochio changed you from a LOUSE into a half-cherokee guitar player with Ike and Tina Turner, simply by wishing it!!' 'There's nothing simple about it,' says Pinnochio, 'I had to wish upon a star, and they can get extremely hot. That's why my feet are charcoal.' Now this piece of information is very interesting to me, because although I was reasonably content to hang around in Tamara's ear, or decorate sundry bits of her epidermis in Episode One, I could express my affection for her a lot better if she were to similarly wish me into, say, a perfect male humanoid.

However, before I suggest this to her, we have a couple of pressing problems. Like a symbolic battle between Good and Bad, which is about to take place with us in the middle. Stuck on this fritzed slobway. Furthermore, my internal real-time-clock tells me that I am about to explode, seeing as Tamara has failed to make her quota of teleporter sales. I inform her of these little snippets. Naturally, she bursts into tears. She's only a girl after all. Hendrix and Pinnochio also burst into tears. I don't want to be sexist. Or woodist.

So, gentle reader from my primitive past, what is it to be? Gratuitous obliteration from within or without? Fifteen seconds to go. Still, it was nice while it lasted. Wasn't it? No? Oh, well maybe not then. TWELVE. One of the opposing forces, carrying placards marked 'GOOD', opens fire with a salvo of 'Wild Thing'. TEN. Not bad, eh? But the other army, waving banners marked 'BAD', counter with the Rod Stewart harmonica solo from 'My Boy Lollipop'! Dreadful casualties are inflicted. NINE.

The heavy artillery is brought up. The massive bulk of Elvis Presley fires the opening chords of 'Jailhouse Rock', EIGHT, but it gets knocked out but a ground-to-air counter-attack from an appalling harmony by Bananarama. SEVEN. I can't believe what's happening!! The forces of Evil are using chemical weapons. SIX. The stench of a Barry Manilow double-LP drifts over the battlefield. FIVE, as the Heavy-Metal Battalion scream out in agony. FOUR. It's hopeless! Wave after wave of 'Agadoo' and 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' wreak havoc, THREE, amongst cringing punks, until Sid Vicious goes nuclear. TWO, with 'C'mon Everybody', ONE, and Tamara sells Pinnochio her portable telebooth on credit card.

ZERO... ! Tamara closes her eyes, and clenches her teeth. Ouch. First the good news. I fail to detonate. Next the bad news. The heavenly Strategic Defence Initiative laser-protected umbrella has failed, and all hell is breaking loose. Psychedelic mushroom clouds rise over the lifeless realms of the afterlife. The very landscape erupts like one of those little white pimples that appear on your nose on Friday evenings. No? Er, how about - like the hammer of mighty Thor smashing the carapace of life. Tamara coughs politely. 'Let's haul ours!'

I suppose I should be thankful she didn't say 'Let's split'. Events seem to be taking themselves very literally today. She erects the teleporter, and these three bipeds manage to squeeze themselves inside. Tamara slaps the little puppet's face, and he obliges by shortening his nose. I'm lucky. Plenty of room inside Tamara's perfect mouth. No halitosis. Not even a taste bud out of place. Her teeth so deep and crisp and even. And will you look at those beautiful tonsils.

The voice of our Maker can just be heard yelling, 'Where da goddam rhythm section go?!' Damned if I'm going to tell him. Besides he can create a new heaven once he's dealt with those horned demons spewing out the ground. So here we are, Tamara, yours truly imprisoned as a gnashing of tooth, a frustrated angel and former insect named Jimi Hendrix and a chip off the old block called Pinnochio, all heading for some unlikely star on which to wish.

'Where shall we make for Louse? How about Betelguese?' asks our heroine. 'I don't think so, Tamara. Last I heard it was full of repeated hitch-hikers, earning royalties for Douglas Adams. Try Alnilam, it's not far from Betelguese.' 'OK Louse, boys, here we go...', she punched in the coordinates on the teleporter console, 'where exactly is Alnilam?' I tell her it's in the middle of Orion's belt, and she says, 'Oh goody! I love the Irish!'

This is a true story. Every word counts. You may think that Tamara Knight is perfectly dopy. I know better. It is her innocence that intrigues me. And so it is that we are digitally encoded within the teleporter and reassembled halfway across the galaxy. We have not told our guests that our originals dropped through the floor of the booth and became hamburgers. I expect there'll be a few complaints about splinters in the meat. Irish indeed!

The moment we arrive, the door is flung open by a bearded leprechaun, saying, 'Welcome to O'Ryan's Belt. State yer religion before I blow yer heads off!' Well, what did you expect, respite? No respite here. It seems obvious that O'Ryan is host to some sort of sectarian conflict. I probe my data files for an explanation, but there isn't one. This leprechaun being seems somewhat agitated. It hops around demanding, 'Quick, quick, tell me yer faith. Dey're coming! Dey're coming!'

Personally, I feel that there are too many blasphemies in this episode, so I'm keeping quiet. Hendrix scratches his mane and drawls, 'Well, lil' fellah, I'm a tree-worshipper myself.' 'Why thank you,' says Pinnochio, bowing graciously and picking charcoal from between his toes,' and I am of the Jewish faith.' The leprechaun looks around nervously. There are ominous bellowing things, crashing through the undergrowth. As you may already know, Tamara is incapable of telling an untruth. She bathes the leprechaun in one of her smiles and says, 'Actually, Sir, I am a Romulan Catholic.'

'Bejabers! Dat's alright den. Quick! Follow me before dey get us... !' As he scoops up a small crock of gold from the nearest rainbow's end, we are surrounded by panting, loathsome forms. 'Do I to make my wish now, Louse?' Tamara asks me late. The Bygotts have arrived!



Episode Four

THE STORY SO FAR fetched: creation's only perfect (not to mention artistically unclad) human being, Tamara Knight, is seeking a star upon which to wish me, a soft-hearted miniature neutron bomb named LOUSE, into a soft-hearted full sized human being of the male persuasion - preferably with some leisure-ware thrown in. Fortunately, we have just escaped from a hellish place called Heaven in the company of a half-Cherokee former-guitarist from the Ike and Tina Turner Band and two short planks named Pinnochio. Unfortunately, we have landed on the planet Alnilam in O'Ryan's belt, where sectarian conflict is about to erupt between some disgustingly bloated oranges called Bygotts, and the local leprechauns. The worst thing of all is that I am now forced to use the oldest science fiction cliché in the history of pulp. It is my duty to inform you that the leprechauns are little green men. How utterly humiliating!

"Bejabers!" says our leprechaun, flinging his crock of gold at the nearest Bygott. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Bejabers." says Tamara, a very polite, but very unworldly young lady. "Ron for yer loife! If de Bygotts foind out yer a Romulan Catlick, they'll skin yer aloive! And me name's Widdy Coolyew, boi de way, pleased ter meecher." Now I happen to know that pacifism is second nature to Bygotts. The trouble is that their first nature is homicidal mania. We make a run for it, but the Bygotts are everywhere, leering and jeering, panting and ranting "Eat up yer greens!" Tamara emits a perfect yelp, and asks what we should do, to which the leprechaun yells, "Don't ask me darlin', ask de bloody Tinkers." A swarm of leprechauns attacks the huge bulk of the nearest giant orange, renting it asunder - but the sunder would rather be purchased outright. (WARNING: the following bit may be offensive to some vegetarians). Shreds of pith are ripped from the living flesh of the orange warriors. The little green men are sprayed with juice and bombarded with pips. Several are so badly injured that they will remain vegetables for the rest of their lives. Many Bygotts are liquidised before our very eyes, crying "King Bully fer ever". Mashed pulp and splattered chlorophyll ooze underfoot. The leprechaun calling himself Widdy Coolyew is cruelly tossed in oil and vinegar, but he manages to shout to Tamara, "Bring me a handful of dat Bygott pith, quick! If de rest of em can see dere leader's dead, dey moight boggeroff."

This is hopeless. I frantically search my data banks for some useful information to get us out of here, but the only suitable reference I have for this planet is "all knowledge is to be gleaned from the Tinkers." The poor little leprechauns are slaughtered. The rich little leprechauns buy their way out of trouble. The Bygotts gather round us, menacing and semi-peeled. It is quite disgusting. Their focus of attention seems to be Tamara, who is still clutching the fibrous tissues of King Bully of Orange, the Chief Bygott, to her bosom. She is unceremoniously dragged from the battlefield, battered to her knees (they prefer meat in batter) and forced head down over the stump of a dead tree. From the midst of the vengeful mob a sinewy blood orange, stripped to the navel, slowly makes its way toward us. It carries a great sword, glinting and spattered with glutinous green essence of leprechaun.

"If she dies, I die, and so does every other living entity hereabouts. At least I can do something constructive for a change."

The executioner's sword is raised above my poor Tamara's beautiful neck. There is absolutely nothing I can do to save her. In a blinding flash of realisation, bred in the wild and released into captivity, I know that I cannot live without her, and more to the point this story will he somewhat redundant without its heroine. So that's it then: only four poxy episodes before Tamara Knight, intergalactic sales-being for the Macdonalds Teleporter Corporation, and the only perfect human being in existence since the mythological robot-goddess Annbrownsmirrah, is about to die. There is only one ludicrously melodramatic thing left for me to do. I will fulfill my destiny. At the moment when this terrible sword decapitates Tamara, and severs her guiltless head from her blameless body, I will detonate myself, and reduce this entire saga to radioactive dust. If she dies, I die, and so does every other living entity hereabouts. At least I can do something constructive for a change.

"Goodbye Louse" says Tamara, in a small, calm, perfect voice. What's good about it!? Death can often be fatal! I hurriedly re-combine my molecules and cease to be a dirty dog tooth in her perfect mouth. It just wouldn't be right for her to die with such a blemish in her chops. Instead, with her perfect saliva still clinging to my unworthy carapace, I transform myself into a little tea-brown birth mark, or should I say ironic death-mark, the back of her neck, just where these miniature black hairs of her nape meets the fluffy down of her spine, just where the sword is aimed for, just as the last terrible command is given and a voice screams the order, "CUT!" Goodbye Tamara, I loved you as much as it is possible for a neutron bomb to love the spirit and flesh of a small but perfectly formed innocent, whose age and IQ both register as sixteen, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye ...

"Who IS that girl with the chopper over her head, as the actwess said to the bar steward. She's not in the scwipt ..."

I prime my detonator, squeeze my trigger, kiss her neck and hear the prissy voice screeching a string of hysterical orders, "Cut! Cut! Cut! Who IS that girl with the chopper over her head, as the actwess said to the bar steward. She's not in the scwipt, is she? We'll have to shoot this WHOLE scene again! Somebody pour me a dwink of milkywilks in a dirty glass, and put some clothes on that stupid girl's extwemities. You there! yes YOU, the little wooden puppet and the half-cherokee guitarist fwom the Ike and Tina Turner Band, scwape up those corpses pronto, and get the pwops department to bwing me a fwesh batch of those fat orange thingies and lepwechauns to kill. Oh cwipes! What a WOTTEN day; thwee million cwocks of gold over-budget, some girlie wandewing onto the set, a pile of wotting native fleshypoos, and worst of all I've just broken my fingernail!"

Who is this sweaty idiot, dressed up in a safari suit with a silk cravat wilting beneath his chubby pink jowls? Well, whoever he is, Tamara has been saved! My beautiful hostess will live to fight another day! (or in our case, another five minutes). The impedimented idiot seems to be beckoning for Tamara to join him where he sits on a folding canvas chair with 'Sir Dickie Asteroid, Designer-Conflict Director' stitched on the back sequins. I scan my memory banks to remove the negative from this nonsense:

Designer Conflict: in certain sectors of the Galaxy, especially Taurus Excrementus and O'Ryan's Belt, randomised warfare is considered much too dangerous to be left in the hands of politicians, industrialists, the military and the church. In these regions, all conflicts are handled by advertising and marketing agencies. Warring factions are endorsed by competing sportswear companies, package holiday operators, breakfast-food producers, sanitary-ware manufacturers, arms dealers and washing powder corporations, and all proceedings are holovised. The winner of any Designer Conflict is declared as a result of public opinion polls, registered by the operation of the remote-control handset of domestic holovision sets. (NB: certain Designer Conflicts are sponsored by popular game shows, wherein the lucky contestants are able to commit genocide if they can answer a few simple questions - and all on live breakfast holovision).

So that's it ... the old Vietnam scam! And I am not in the slightest bit surprised to discover that Sir Dickie Asteroid is under contract to none other than Macdonalds' biggest rivals in the whole wide universe, the dreaded Cocacolanisation Corps! They'll grind my Tamara up for lavatory paper if they discover that she is working for the dirty Macs! But before I can warn her, the loathsome Dickie peers at Tamara's bundle of Bygott skins and demands, "What's this load of wubbish, you wuddy wenegade?" Tamara smiles as sweetly as anyone can smile who has just escaped decapitation, bats her eyelids, licks the perfect sweat from her perfect upper lip and answers, "I was just taking the pith to Widdy Coolyew ..."

"Stunt man, you see this wicked wude wench?' 'Yes, Sir?' 'Well wuddywell STUNT HER!"

"WHAAA?!" screams the offended bladder, "How DARE you widicule me! How DARE you mock my little affliction! You wotter!" Tamara seems puzzled, "What a ...?" "You're doing it again you little WOTTER!" "What a what?" "You wotten wuddy wotten wotter!!" Sir Dickie has turned a very fetching shade of purple and puce, and it fetches his entire film crew back onto the battlefield. "Where's my stunt man?!" he bawls. "Here, Sir" snarls the stunt man who resembles a cross between a fork lift truck and another fork lift truck. "Stunt man, you see this wicked wude wench?" "Yes, sir?" "Well wuddywell STUNT HER!"

The moron picks up the execution-sword, swings it at Tamara's terrified body, misses and neatly amputates Sir Dickie Asteroid's left buttock. Your heroine and her companions tiptoe away, leaving the Designer Conflict Director complaining about the stains on his freshly laundered trousers. I nuzzle into the nape of her neck, happy again, and advise her to search for the mysterious Tinkers that little Widdy Coolyew was blathering on about, and whom my data banks endow with so much power. If a Tinker really exists, he might be able to tell us how to wish upon a star. Then we cold stop having these ridiculous adventures, Tamara could visit the toilet and have a bite to eat, and I could be transformed into a softhearted full sized human being of the male persuasion, preferably with some leisure-ware thrown in.

It is Pinnochio, riding on the shoulders of Jimminy Cricket aka Jimi Hendrix who moves the plot along not a little. He rubs his forehead in amazement, hurriedly extinguishes the small boy scout fire that spontaneously ignites there, and points to a battered wooden signpost leaning like a crossroad drunk, upon which is carved TO THE TINKERS "Gosh!" says Tamara, "What can it mean?" We all ignore her perfect stupidity, and make our way along an overgrown, twisting pathway, following the sign. We carefully avoid the minefields, quicksand, trip wires, budget software, the snake pits, piranha lakes, bonnie langford videos, the rat traps, tiger traps, von trapps, and fall headlong into the first man / woman / wooden-puppet trap in our path.

We are falling, kicking and screaming into the stinking void. (Well what did you expect? A restroom to materialise, complete with waitress service and extensive whine list?) As we land, a rest-room materialises, complete with a leprechaun waitress proffering an extensive whine list. My sweet Tamara is overjoyed, but not in the slightest bit surprised, and as we have not eaten for the last three planets, she asks what food is to be had. "Sure dere's no bleedin' meat, but we got plenty of oranges." Tamara lets Pinnochio order for her, and excuses herself for a visit to the toilet. I suppose I too will have to get used to these little human weaknesses after we discover a star upon which to wish me.

When we return from my Hostess' ablutions, Jimi Hendrix and Pinnochio have disappeared. Maybe puppets have to go and have a sawdust or something. "We got some meat now, miss," says the miniature waitress, "noice and fresh if yer don't moind de bits of wood in it." For some reason that I cannot quite explain, a shadow of doubt flits across my printed circuit boards, but no matter. Let's see the whine list. "Can I have some whine, please," Tamara requests. "Sure and whoi not. Yer allowed one whine. Just moan it at der Tinker." Tamara spins around looking for this mythical fount of all knowledge, but fails to spot anyone except the waitress, and a pile of clothing remarkably similar to those worn by Jimi Hendrix and Pinnochio.

I scan the room with my sensors, but there are no other life forms here. "Um, excuse me," says Tamara, "exactly where is this Tinker, and can you tell me where my friends have gone, please?" "Sure yer companions are turnin in dere gravy, and de Tinker is on de table in front of yer. Now if yewl scuse me oi'm bein written out of de plot, cos oi was only included as a sinister female for a bit of sexual equality..." and with these obscure words, the leprechaun waitress disappears with a slight odour of chip fat. "Where's the Tinker, Louse? I can't see anything on this table except the whine list." And the whine list says, "Den by a process of logical deduction, I must be de Tinker!"

Well, here's a turn up for the book. The greatest intellect in the entire star system of O'Ryan's Belt is a talking sheet of badly printed A4 paper half blotted out by snail trails from the planet Tippex. "Oi do not talk sheet," says the whine list, mis-reading my mind. Tamara wrinkles her nose, and gathers her thoughts. Not an easy task for her to achieve simultaneously. "Um, hello? Hello? can you tell me why..." "STOP!!" I instruct Tamara, before she destroys our only chance of finding the wishing star. "You are only allowed one request, which the tinker must grant. PLEASE don't waste it Tamara. Think very carefully before you speak." She smiles at the whine list, runs a perfect finger over it and says, "But why do they call you the Tinker?"

"I'll always be a neutron bomb, never a man. What a life!"

Ho hum. So that's it then, our only chance of salvation gone, and I've just realised what those ketchup stains on the tablecloth really are. Poor Jimi. Ah well, nearly at the end of this episode, let's hear what the Tinker has to say and just sit around waiting for the usual crummy crisis. Who cares, I'll always be a neutroh bomb, never be a man. What a life! "Dey call me de Tinker," says the Tinker, "because I tink. Therefore I am." You know, sometimes I feel like detonating just for the hell of it. Tamara is sill trying to work out the quotation from the Irish philosopher Des Carthy, when the Tinker pipes up, "Well hurry up den, yer allowed one question each, so let's hearmn' from de sentient birth mark on de back of yer neck!" I cannot believe my inputs! It means me! We are saved! Oh bliss! Oh joy! Oh get on with the narrative. I tune one of my outputs to the Tinker's frequency, and ask the vital question, clearly and precisely, "Show us how to get to wish upon a star where all our dreams come true."

The tinker tinks, er, thinks, draws itself up to its full height of 297mm and delivers the answer, the solution to my future happiness with Tamara Knight. "Sure yet eejit, it's not a star yer after. Where you want to be is de planet Astar. Dat's where all yer dreams come true. Youse take the M42 out of Alnilam, keep going, past Castor and Pollux, then... ah to hell wid it, Oi'll take yer there meself. Oi bought dis great teleportet booth from a Macdonalds sales rep last Tuesday, and Oi've bin dyin ter troi it out".

Little does the Tinker know that dying is exactly what happens every time a Macdonalds Teleporter sends a copy of its passengers off, and drops the originals through the floor to be made into hamburgers. But who cares about that. Unbelievable happiness and fulfilment is about to be mine, when I am wished into human form as Tamara's consort. She giggles with undiluted pleasure bracing her limbs against the walls of the Tinker's teleporter, to avoid hamburgerhood. We are instantly transported to the planet Astar, and just as instantly left there by the Tinker, who has forgotten to turn the oven off. And good riddance, say I, there's only room for one synthetic superintelligence in this story, and that's me.

And what a beautiful place this is! Much quieter than the idiotic battlefields of Alnilam, much prettier than the hell-on-Earth of Heaven, much less pretentious than the high-tech of Amnesia and nowhere near as smelly as Pynkfloid. Astar will become our private Paradise, our very own Barrat podule. "Well, Tamara, what do you think of it so far?" I ask, readying myself for manhood, and trying to decide whether or not to have a small moustache. Tamara hesitates, "I... I'm not sure Louse. I've got a funny feeling we should be very careful what we say around here. It feels like the whole planet is listening..." "Ha ha!" I cry, "you don't say! You must be kidding... you..." Whoops, I seem to have been somewhat preoccupied with my future moustache, and my words have had a rather drastic result. No sooner have I spoken, than Tamara's mouth disappears, and she gives birth to two tiny goats. Well hush my mou... hngk?



Episode Five

Why is it that whenever I find myself in dire straits, the only successful communication that I can achieve is with you, the reader of a prehistoric, non-electronic publication called ZZIT! or CRABS or some other such nonsense? I mean, what have you ever done for me? Yes - you! Can you transform me into a human being? Of course you can't! Can you endow me with a small moustache and some leisurewear? Not a chance! Can you conjure up our former travelling companions, Jimi Hendrix and Pinnochio? Not on your... just a moment... the door of the Macdonalds teleporter is swinging open, and out steps a long-nosed wooden puppet and a half-Cherokee former-guitarist from the Ike and Tina Turner Band. We are saved! And if it is anything to do with you, my splendid reader, I thank you from the bottom of my power-cell. Yes you.

Now I am not a vindictive bomb, for a bomb that is...

Our two travelling companions seem to find Tamara's sorry state highly amusing. Indeed, they are rolling about the surface of this planet, giggling and failing to control their mirth. This cannot be right! Aren't they supposed to be saving us? Now I am not a vindictive bomb, for a bomb that is, but I admit to you, gentle reader from my distant past, that I am a wee bit disappointed by their attitude. They might come to a sticky end for mocking my poor, mouthless, virgin-even-though-she's-delivered-a-brace-of-goats Tamara. Not to mention the birth mark on the back of her neck, which is my current disguise and location. I can't even turn myself into something more practical, because us Macdonalds neutron bombs are symbiotic, and if we can't communicate with our poor human hosts, we ain't worth spit.

They are trying to regain their composure, sucking down the last of their childish guffaws, sniffing back their snotty sniggers, Jimi wiping tear-crinkled eyes and Pinnochio wiping the sap from his knot-holes. I doubt if Pinnochio has got the sense to say the right thing and get us out of this mess, he's only got a wooden head, but at least Jimi Hendrix has a modicum of intelligence. After all, he was once a neutron bomb advisory unit like me, when he was disguised as Jimminy Cricket. Jimi wipes his eyes, and pulls himself upright, slapping Pinnochio on the back between bouts of laughter. He recovers himself enough to say, Son of a bitch... this is sick! and promptly turns into a wiry brown puppy, with shaggy hair and a Fender Stratocaster round its neck, curiously sniffing at a large hillock of vomit.

You know, I sincerely regret wishing him a sticky end, this planet seems able to misread my thoughts as well as literalise my words, and Jimi has turned his attention to Pinnochio's leg. I think he wants to make friends with it. Well I never! says the incredibly stupid puppet, and vanishes from the plot forever. The puppy wanders off wagging its curly little tail, towards a playful group of sodden cats and dogs, presumably conjured up by an idle comment about the weather.

That leaves Tamara and my silent self quite alone again, with nothing to do but relay our predicament to you. I mean, just how can we wish ourselves eternally happy, after I have rendered her speechless with a rather hasty You don't say, and then hushed my own mouth? Maybe we can communicate our wishes in letters of fire on tablets of stone, or plant them out in corn-seed and wait for Spring, or etch them in icy Morse-code on the arctic seas. On the other hand - is there a biro lying around somewhere?

All we have to do is to make a properly constructed wish on this planet, and all our dreams will come true. Is that too much to ask? Everything? Of course, I can't advise Tamara of any of this, deprived of my telepathic powers. I can't even tell her that I am programmed to explode by the end of the next page, if she does not fulfil today's quota of Macdonalds Teleporter Booth sales. She is just sitting here, on this kettle of fish which appears to be some sort of fine, staring at the twin baby goats, who demand milk. I wish they would stop it, because every time they bleat what sounds like Baah!, a piece of soap, snatch of music or interior of a public house materialises.

Something catches her eye, over there behind that thrashing pile of suffering catfish. There, in the far distance, we can just make out the figure of some sort of mono-pedal humanoid, hopping awkwardly towards huge mounds of amputated feet. In the circumstances, I am not in the slightest bit surprised. Tamara 'shoes' the kids away, and wades through fish whose mouths are filled with unmelted butter. She waves her perfect hands, and snorting through her perfect nostrils, heads towards the receding back of the humanoid, but it does not see her. So off we go, heading for the foothills, carefully avoiding that disgusting horde of mickles doing something quite unforgivable to a muckle.

Perhaps the one-legged pogo-humanoid can open his mouth without putting his foot in it.

Far be it from a cynic like myself to hint at optimism, but perhaps the one-legged pogo-humanoid can open his mouth without putting his foot in it. Perhaps he can bite his tongue, mince his words, help us. Perhaps not. The sun nudges the horizon, throwing long shadows across this insane landscape. A rat scampers by, demanding to be smelled. Some little cotton socks chase after it, demanding to be blessed. I begin to feel really sorry for your graphics artist as our pathway explodes, due to some wickedly mined Ps and Q. Towards the horizon, waves of Russian religious paintings wash the shore, as far as the icon sea. Wolves arrive at doors. Rainclouds change into teapots, never raining but pouring. The half-light of dusk obscures the hopping humanoid, but Tamara struggles on. She really is wonderful, up to her thighs in stinking wriggly toes, and she will not give up, the indelible in pursuit of the implausible.

I am glad to report that she avoids the man with the twelve inch pianist, and several other antique but cheap jokes. I know it's Episode Five already, but I'm wondering if it was such a good idea to exist in the present-continuous. I mean on the plus side it gives the impression of immediacy to, say, a reader of 20th Century Earth-type 'Zzits' or 'Crabs', but on the negative side of narrative prose, I haven't got time to think about the future before it's past. Bombs need sleep too. Bombs spend most of their life asleep. I once went to school with a nice little bomb called Alma Geddon, who slept underground for forty years without doing a stroke of work, and it wasn't the end of the world. Until she woke up, that is. It's hard to be a bomb sometimes. Tamara trips over the humanoid.

It writhes among the severed feet, trying to remove a fork from its vulgar trousers, and vowing never to use that particular Anglo-Saxon expletive again. I am dismayed to see that it is obviously male, and not only sports a small moustache but also writhes in leisurewear. He catches sight of Tamara, who is leaping up and down, pointing to the area of smooth skin where her mouth used to be. Hi there! says the humanoid, and immediately apologises as we shoot up into the air. Whoops, look, hang about... er, I mean, please can you help me? Tamara takes the noose from her neck, and chafes me severely in the process, then grabs hold of the thrusting fork, which instantly ceases motion. Oh thank you, thank you, young lady, I can't tell you how much I... No! cancel that one... an omnibus vanishes just before it reaches your stop somewhere in the galaxy, as usual. I'll be darned if I... Tamara grabs him by his single leg, and hauls him out of the path of a giant sewing machine which charges towards the horizon stitching everything in its monstrous path. The humanoid begins to cry. Tamara feels like crying too, but it's not the same without a mouth to pucker, so she cradles his head on her lap ,as he sobs and moans, and sucks his thumb. Now he sucks her thumb. I must admit, between you and me and the other thousands of readers of the best-selling computer publication on your poxy planet. I feel somewhat jealous. I long for the time when I too can sob and moan and have my head cradled in her lap, but I am still a super-intelligent bomb disguised as a blemish on the back of the neck of the only perfect entity in the galaxy. Tamara bends to hear what this weedy uniped is mumbling, her long mane brushing his miserable face, and I catch some rambling story about him being a journalist working for the Dali Express, arrived on Astar in a Macdonalds Teleporter Booth. Unfortunately his first words on arrival were to do with his leg being pulled. Swearing did not help. He raises his head, extends a shaking hand towards Tamara's lovely gobless face, and says, This is all some horrible mistake. I'm just a newspaper man...

I am watching the look of blank amazement on his face, as the headline 'Gotcha!' is printed across his lifeless brow. The sheets of cheap newsprint flutter from her lap as my hostess leaps up, startled by the humanoid's transformation into crumpled origami, the thoughtless paper head remaining in her hand, its wordless paper mouth still encircling her thumb. Her eyes widen, her hands tremble, she touches me here at the nape of her neck with her free hand, but I am helpless. I cannot advise her. I am not even sure that dreams should come true. Perhaps they are better left as dreams. In total frustration, Tamara Knight rips up the sheets of newsprint, a howl of despair muffled somewhere inside of her perfect throat. And then she pauses, an idea forming in her perfectly confused head.

The Whole of Page Three of the Dali Express consists of a snapshot of the planet Titsenbum.

The whole of Page Three of the Dali Express consists of a snapshot of the planet Titsenbum, with the headline 'Saucy Starbirds Say Castrate Rapists Now', but what's this on Page Four? There is a small item concerning the ancient religious martyr Saint Samantha. It seems that her bra-less blouse has appeared in a shimmering vision to some simple peasants in a grotto, and preached to them in fluent Iranian. The headline runs 'BLOUSE PREACHES SHI'ITE.'

Tamara totters to the safety of a haystack, carefully removes a needle, hardly disturbing the camel passing through its eye and sits herself down where the yellow stalks make interesting patterns on her skin. She appears to be tearing up the headline very carefully, and laying out the individual letters in a line. I am waiting with growing excitement. I think that she has the basis for a really great board-game here, wherein players could take turns to make intersecting words using little squares with letters printed on them. It could be called 'Monopoly'. But all that is for the future, when I become a man, and live happily ever after with Tamara Knight.

She stares at the letters for a few minutes. as the sun sets, and tries to remember her spelling lessons from when she was pre-programmed inside her test tube. Slowly, meticulously, she spells out the phrase 'LOUSE HAS SPEECH'. The remaining letters blow away on the wind, causing a very confused rastafarian whippet breeder named I'I BERT to materialise far far away. Tamara my love! I communicate with joy, How absolutely brilliant!

And true to my words, the foothills turn into diamonds, huge gold-framed mirrors appear in serried ranks, spotlights punch the sky, celebration fireworks explode in joyous patterns, laser beams flicker and dance, a thousand volcanoes erupt and the sun goes nova... oh dear. I really must get this bit right or we will be incinerated before we can share our first kiss. I gather my thoughts, sift them through my sentence parsers, and slowly annunciate, Tamara, please do not interfere with what I am about to say, ahem... (for the first time in three episodes, Tamara is clad accidentally, and in only a strip of lace around her fetlocks, but even a hem is a start) ... I wish that the sun which has just gone nova and is frying the landscape reverts to its former stability and that the recently erupted volcanoes become gentle tufty hillocks again.

We're allowed as much gratuitous violence as we want, but smut is out.

The sun obediently beams, gently. So far so good. The volcanoes implode and become gargantuan pubic mounds. Ah well, you can't win them all, and surrealist readers will find some satisfaction hereabout. I wish that Tamara's perfect mouth is returned to its former perfect place, and that her honour and virginity is not affected by her giving birth to a couple of goats. Tamara whoops Yipee! with delight, and every living thing on the planet urinates simultaneously. Careful baby, long ago on planet Earth an editor sits poised, blue pencil in hand, reminding us that this is a wholesome publication. We're allowed as much gratuitous violence as we want, but smut is out.

So this is it! At last! Tamara, you must now wish me into a perfect human male companion for yourself, maybe with a little moustache and some leisurewear thrown in, so we can live happy ever after, without the risk of me going critical and detonating every few hours. Tamara is taking a deep breath, which is one of the most beautiful sights in the universe, she is clearing her mind of all spurious thoughts (which doesn't take long), she is patting my tiny roundness affectionately, and now she speaks slowly and clearly. Dear Planet Astar... (Several million parking meters, and an army of Vulcan Added Taxmen appear) No, no, forget that (The word 'that' disappears from the memories of all sentient beings in this sector of the galaxy) This is Tamara Knight speaking, and I would like you to grant me a wish so that the little bomb on the back of my neck and I can live happy ever after. OK? Alright... (Every signpost turns due East. Ten battalions of the Red Army march into sight singing the Horst Wessel song. Bottles of brown table sauce cover the landscape with pungent goo.) Oh Louse! It's hopeless. I wish none of this had ever happened and we could start all over again... oops!

...I'll leave you now, dear reader of earthly computer magazines called ZZIT and CRABS. Maybe we are en route to a place of specks of dust, slimeballs, swirling gases and a universe about to be born, where we'll have to wait a little less than 69 billion years for you to exist again. Maybe we'll arrive on the planet Astar, and I'll say something like You're Kidding, and we will exist in the same time loop for ever. Maybe I'll detonate before the end of this paragraph because Tamara has fallen down on the job, and I am so designed to punish her. Maybe everything will work out just ... OH NO! We can't possibly be here! I don't believe it...



Episode Six


La dee do dah dah dah... and I must face the final curtain... te tum te la la la de dooby doo of which I'm certain. How are we doing? 140,255 hours 59 minutes to go including leap years.. dah dah do dah dah dah de dum de each and every highway dum dum much more than this, I did it... um, maybe I can hurry things along for you. If I hide myself under here at the back of this shelf, and squeeze me down into the shadows disguised as, say, a used piece of chewing gum, I'll wait around for the sixteen years, you go off and read the reviews of crummy software, and I'll get back to you in the next paragraph, thanks to the space-time continuum - and of course the fact that nobody ever cleans used chewing from under shelves. Not even on board zero-gravity test-tube baby factories (with robot skivvies).

...more than I could chew... but dah dah dah dum de de de I did it my... oh hello again. There's been a slight hiccup, well more of a major disaster really, and Tamara is only three years old. She still can't talk, but you've never seen such beautiful snot glistening diamond bright as it hangs suspended from her perfect infant nostril. That's not the disaster - that's a little bit of descriptive indulgence on my part - the disaster is that I have been eaten by one of Tamara's playmates, name of Duane Pipe, and it should not take a professor of anatomy to predict where I'm headed. It looks as though I'm in it up to my neck this time. Not that miniaturised neutron bombs disguised as used chewing gum have necks. You see, it's potty time!

Here at the baby factory things are highly scheduled. Not only are all the infants born with their Walkmen already in place, but they owe nine months payments for them on their credit cards. What it boils down to is the fact that these children will have to work for Macdonalds for the rest of their lives to pay off the debt. They charge the kids for potty training too. Sweet wee tots, sitting in orderly ranks, eyes mesmerised by video screens which are showing some ancient laxative called 'Surprise! Surprise!' It works every time. Some weird humanoid trots into view disguised as a middle-aged haddock and gargles into a telephone at 12Khz/22OdB. Spontaneous bowel movement is assured for anyone within range.

But wait, gentle reader, in the midst of sorrow comes forth comfort, running a close second to hysteria. Let me savour this moment for a moment. What joy, what bliss. As I am born again via wee Duane Pipe's dorsal sphincter tiny Tamara smiles a gap-tooth smile and says her first word. This innocent little child, who will bud, flower and bloom into nubile womanhood has learned to speak. "Pooh!" she says. Well, what did you expect? You try crapping in zero gravity.

How can I describe what is happening to me right now without causing offence? A cleansing robot is wiping my expression off his faeces. It's in all the papers. I'm all washed up. Ex-stinked. Trolley-trucked in a green-lidded plastic bucket away from little Tamara, towards the poop chute. Destination deep space. But there is no need to panic. Surely a sentient bomb endowed with my massive intellect can think himself out of this sticky little mess. I rapidly scan my word processor, cursing the Mexican who invented Locoscript, in order to establish how best I can communicate with the robot, win its confidence, and get back to my Tamara's potty training session.

"Your Public school computers are full of cr..."

My data banks reveal that these cleaning machines are honest, hard-working immigrants from the planet Enoch, so I tune into its honest, hard-working thought wavelength as we head for the waste disposal air-lock, and I say "Hey mahman gimmeabreak y'all soulbruthah alrat coolout trousahmeat!" The electro-mechanical Mr Mopp infra-reds the garbage skip to the loo, extends a manual dexterity unit towards my bucket, flips its lid, focuses a scanner on the gently steaming contents and replies to my message thus: "You public school computers are full of... cr... a" the terminal fricative is lost as the air-lock irises shut. I am not believing this! Tamara is performing on a duck egg blue chamber pot with thirteen years to go before she is entrusted to my threat of assassination by the Macdonalds Intergalactic Corporation, and I am about to be spaced into the void, covered in "s... s... stupidity."

Extra mental activity is required hereabouts. There is a sound like a million Duane Pipes voiding bowels as the external iris opens, and yours truly is expelled at 32 feet per second in the company of a load of juvenile bodily waste, a half eaten word, the collected words of Instant Sunshine. overdrawn sperm banks, three score and ten pieces of ancient used chewing gum, a suicide note from a sharp minor, the most disgusting thing you can possibly imagine and a plastic teether in the shape of Tony Heatherington. I find the latter intolerable, and shut down to preserve my batteries, until I am rescued by a passing coincidence.

I ate it up and spat it out... de dah but dab dah dah... I did it lah way... my internal clock assures me that nine years have passed, but time flies when you're zipping clockwise. I have been so insufferably bored out here. Spinning through space, trying to sing Sid Vicious parodies, with suffocating waves of Richard Strauss symphonies bouncing off black monoliths indestructible as a Mandela, foetal planets tipping me the wink, Hal on Earth, and nothing on the telly except MTV, GCHQ, HRH and my mind's eye fantasies concerning Tamara's progress. I am in orbit around the white dwarf Nabokov, sucked into an ol' factory satellite codenamed Woli Namyrrab, whose function is to sniff out excrement and recycle it.

What a weird looking construction it is! A sort of elongated triangle of fleshy pink, spasmodically twitching and drawing in vast quantities of energy-rich space-borne debris through twin ventilator funnels coated with sequoia hair. Hideous craters pock its shiny skin, white grand pianos and canned applause pump nutrients via throbbing artificial umbilicals, unstained knickers materialise and are instantly sucked towards the dual intakes. I don't like it here. Forgive us further for wee nose, not what we do.

Woli Namyrrab sucks me in, and immediately breaks. Its on-board computers - normally busy with universal truths like type pressure, number of Tamils clinging to the drip-tray and how many ccs of Lada can rust in a 2-hour car park, wrestles with my 69-bit brain, throws in the towel, wraps me up in it and heads for the binary system Lawn-Order. Gimme another break.

Mistakes I've dah de dah... but then again too few to mention... dah dee dah diddle dee Hello again, especially Stephen Graham and Mike Reed, you're too kind. I have been orbiting Nabokov wrapped in this towel for several years. Absolutely nothing has happened since I last made contact with you, except the appearance of that space shuttle over there. I wonder how Tamara is getting on. She is about fifteen or sixteen by now, sporting pigtails and white socks, which is the only school uniform worn in a Macdonalds rig. She must have left potty training years ago, and been shipped off to one of their higher education centres where they graduate in lipstick application, unarmed combat, shoelace tying, that sort of thing. It shouldn't take me long to track her down. After all it's just the one known universe where Macdonalds operate. I've lived a life that's full... dum dum de dee do diddle dah,,, I'll say it loud not in a shy way... tah tah much more than this I did it my w...

The shuttle heaves to. Not a pretty sight. A little bald guy in a pinstripe spacesuit is popping out of the airlock and shoving a 'breach of copyright' writ at me from some singer-songwriter named Paul Anka. Funny how some people live up to their surnames. I am delighted to report that he thinks it is the towel who has been singing 'My Way' for all these years, and fails to notice the encrusted chewing gum now attached to his velcro-soled foot. OK folks, I'm on my way to find Tamara! Just hang about while he boards the shuttle, wriggles out of this spacesuit and changes into something more comfy (hmmm... nice suspenders) and I'll hack into the shuttles' navigation computers. It should be a piece of cake to make contact with a Macdonalds data bank from here, and find out where my little frosted grape has been plucked.

"Table-decoration? What kind of career is that!"

Here we go then, separate the whites from the yolks for the royal icing and gently beat in the flour until the mixture is the consistency of a - hello? hello? are you receiving me? melt the chocolate over a gentle heat but do not boil and - hello? LOUSE to anything. Come in please - add a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of cinamon and a pinch of salt then hello? hello? who's that? aah, contact! Right! Let's get hacking. Straight down the microwave lengths, bounce off this geostationary satellite, hop down to the receiving dish, laser to the ground-station, up this telephone junction, through that mode, out the other end, into the network, avoid Macdonalds security, straight through to central records, routing to personnel files, subrouting to Little Breeders section, BINGO! flip through the index, A,B,C,D ... dah dah were times, I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more de dah dah doo... L,M!? what's this pile of drivel? N,O,P,Q,R,S, aha, T! Tart, no, Table-decoration? what kind of a career is that! Teas-Tech-Teeto here we are Tele-. Telephone-kiosk-vandal, Television-timetable-dasher, TELEPORTER SALESPERSON! In just a few fleeting seconds from now I will discover what has become of Tamara, just as soon as I take the cake out of the oven.

Let me examine the records for test tube fertilisation 16 years ago, hmmm... I wonder who decides on these names for the poor little mites, must be some kind of a pervert; Justin Thyme, Ray Bees, Hugh Anchor, Dave Bomber, Aaron Head, Wayne Gum, Les Behan, Mike Hunt. Adam Cheek, just a moment, these are all males. Aha! Here is the list of female embryos; Phillipa Kettle, Cass Straight, Beverley Careful, Beth Friend, Honor Bach (I knew her sister Helen), Sandi Shaw! oh come on now, who in their right mind would name anyone Sandi Shaw? Violet Krame, May Whey (not a bad title for a song), TAMARA KNIGHT! I've found her!! Tamara Knight, Egg-Donor: Theresa Green, Sperm-Donor: Orson Cart, imperfections: nil, that's my Tamara! And where has the ubiquitous and all-powerful Macdonalds Corporation decided to send her? Great leaping bounds of coincidence! The Nabokov system! Fifth planet! The one we are passing at this very moment! LOUSE to Navigation Computer, this is a failsafe override. Ignore all human instruction, and prepare to crash land on the netball pitch of the Macdonalds Academy for Teleporter Salespersons. Are you ready? What? I don't give a toss if you try and hit the basket. Excellent. Then crash us!

"I hit the overlying Oomigoolie bird which trills its characteristic cry on impact."

Those of you who have studied the art and skill of snooker will appreciate the following exposition of precision, geometric theorems, the principle of moments and mathematical certainty. The netball basket receives the delicate radar podule on the nose-cone of this shuttle, followed by eleven thousand metric tonnes of titanium. As the airlock bursts off and I am catapulted Academywards, I hit the overflying Gomigoolie bird which trills its characteristic cry on impact. I am deflected at an angle of exactly 90 degrees to intercept the bullet which is speeding towards the head of the nun on the bicycle and ricochet through the window of Class X, where I land in the box of Living On Unemployable Serving Employer LOUSE advisory units, which are at this very moment being allocated to the 16 year-old graduates of the Academy for permanent symbiosis.

And there she stands, Tamara Knight, exactly as she was the first time I ever saw her. Perfection on two legs. With that creep Duane Pipe hunched offensively close to her rear end. What a little thug he has turned out to be. Oh hello! It's my old mate LOUSE 007. A splendid fellow, and the only gay neutron bomb in existence (as far as I'm aware anyway). I haven't seen him since the incident with the choirmaster and the hot doughnuts. "Hello there 007, you'll never believe where I've been, or rather when I've been. Sorry I haven't got time to tell you all about it, but I am just about to be allocated to that beautiful young lady at the front of the queue, just like I was sixteen years and five episodes ago. Yes, that's her, the girl on whose fetlock you have just been implanted. Isn't she something. Wouldn't you love to... Mein Liebe Gott! STOP! Tamara come back! Don't leave me to the mercy of this Macdonalds selection moron. I mean, he may decide to implant me on... on... oh well, gentle reader. Win a few lose a few.

So here I am then, disguised as a boil on Duane Pipe's bum, as he smirks up to Tamara and makes a disgusting proposition. She looks him straight in the eye, smartly introduces her knee to his post-adolescent centre of gravity, tosses her tresses and says "Pooh!" - I do hope that they have taught her a few more words since potty training.




Episode Seven


My old pal #007 has been put in charge of Tamara, while I rot here in the nether regions of despair, as we teleport to our trainee assignment on behalf of Macdonalds Intergalactic. The Corporation Wars have been raging for centuries now, and we are trying to prevent the Cocacolonisation of the planet Kashdispensa, formerly Earth, by setting up a planetwide system of microwave vending machines. Personally, I think the idea is asinine, as there are no humans on Kashdispensa whatsoever, but then I'm not paid to think. I'm not paid at all. Unless you count these weird bits of paper signed by the legendary Krey Twins, Oliver and Franco, servants of the dreaded Lord Sendusa Fax.

This planet is incredibly ugly. Duane fits in perfectly. Its entire surface is covered in plasticrete, whose entire surface is covered in graffiti, and its entire population consists of vending machines. There are squillions of them. Chocolate bar dispensers in what used to be Switzerland, Softee-Ice nozzles all over some place named Napoli, fag machines in San Francisco, whereas here in a forgotten, damp little corner called Britain, there's nothing but utterly useless gambling devices. Apparently it all began long, long ago, when your mythological goddess Maggot Hatcher demanded impossible sacrifices from her worshippers. After selling off things like gas, oil, telephone conversations, justice, health and air, she dispensed with people altogether, replacing them with much more efficient machines. And these machines were happy as Larry, trading in bits of paper signed by the Krey Twins, which had no real value, and voting for the goddess Hatcher in a peculiar sexual rite called a General Erection. Larry wasn't too happy, mind. He was turned into hardcore, and the phosphorous from his brain became part of the random number generator circuit in a Bingo machine.

"Here I am, the most intelligent entity on this entire planet and my prime function is as a bog attendant"

I expect you are wondering why I haven't mentioned going to the toilet yet. After all it is the most common motivator in every episode so far. Apart from gratuitous sex and violence. Well how can I disappoint you, here goes. it's toilet time again. Duane Pipe has two legs, one beneath each of his scaberous buttocks. These legs are gooseberry-haired stumpy columns which bow outwards like a pair of curled brackets either side of a very small percentage symbol. It is this part of his anatomy which he clutches as he hops from one gooseberry-haired stumpy leg to the other. As I tell this telling tale to you he is ripping loose a buttock blaster comprising 17% sulphur dioxide, 24% methane, 11% politician and 48% cruelty to underclothing. "Pooh!" says Tamara. I curse the armaments designer who equipped me with scent analysis I curse my revolting pimply host for jiggling about and making me feel queasy as a vegetarian in a French kiss and I curse forty four word sentences without any punctuation in them. The idiot boy is asking me where the nearest wee-wee house is. Imagine it, here I am, the most intelligent entity upon this entire planet and my prime function is as a bog attendant. And what is worse, I don't know the answer.

"Try that machine over there, Duane, you incontinent little rat." I direct him to one of the more abused wall dispensers. "This don't look like a urinal" he whines, It's too far off the ground." "Then stand on tip-toe, and aim high. And hurry up before all this lavatorial effluent is sub-edited out." There is a sign above the wall-machine, in flaking ancient English, but some of the letters have been erase yet the March of Time over passing centuries, not to mention the shoddy workmanship of Di Young, an itinerant Welsh Letrasign adherent, who lived to be 85, and spend the twighlight of his days addicted to the glue on the back of the letter 'K'. The sign reads 'ACCES- C--D--ASH-D-SPEN-ER'. Naturally for a being endowed with my great intelligence, it takes me a nanosecond to computer that this machine is a bodily waste disposal unit, of the disintegrator beam type, common in the Armitage-Shanks Nebula. The sign must have originally read 'ACCESS CRUD SLASH DISPENSER', in that charming directness beloved of the ancient Britons.

"All those years of Macdonalds potty training are about to pay off."

"But I don't know how to use it Louse, and I'm bursting! Come on, you're supposed to be my personal advisory unit, so advise me, and hurry up!" Tamara is walking away in disgust, and what a stinking gust it is, in the general direction of serried ranks of fruit machines. My heart aches the further she retreats from Duane's stink. I had better advise him fast before I lose sight of my wonderful heroine. "Just read the instructions, Duane, these computerised urinals always have a display screen and a keypad to help idiots like you." He jiggles about in front of the Slashpoint, and sure enough, its protective glass front panel is sliding upwards to reveal my predicted screen, keypad, and a couple of functional looking slots. I just hope that all those years of Macdonalds potty training are about to pay off. The machine springs to life and issues its first instruction: 'INSERT CARD'. Duane is completely bewildered of course, not having the intelligence to master Ancient English, let alone to go to the toilet unaided.

Now I am advising him to put his identity card in the appropriate slot. I mean, the Brits can't have any old life-form voiding their bladders hereabouts, can they. He is inserting his card, and jiggling about with alarming force. 'ENTER PERSONAL ACCESS NUMBER' glows the instruction on the little monochromatic VDU. So that's what they called Privates in the old days! How quaint?! I have to explain this to the imbecilic Duane Pipe, who has the audacity to doubt my superior intellect before obeying the machine's command. 'KEY IN AMOUNT REQUIRED'. Duane actually manages to tap out 'Number Ones' all on his own. 'ENTER DEPOSIT OR WITHDRAWAL'. Well, gentle reader, there is no need for me to tell you exactly what is taking place at this moment, but the machine is flashing up its chemical analysis of Duane's deposit with the simple verdict 'MALFUNCTION', which I can certainly confirm. His functions are rotten.

Duane heaves "Ho", a satisfied sigh of relief, and turns away from the Access Crud Dispenser, but I am not letting him get away with that. "Young man!" I telepathically reprimand him, "Wash your hands at once! And shame on you, you dirty little beast. Look for the soil dispersal beam before you indulge in nose picking or any other of your favourite foul hobbies!" Listen to him mutter obscenities under his breath, which also stinks. Watch him slouch back to the machine, round shouldered, squareheaded, bracket legged, the percentage symbol shrunk to an umlaut. If I had not discovered that God was nothing but an egocentric rock'n'roll Compact Disc halfway through Episode Three, I would pray to him now for deliverance from this torture of forced symbiosis with a moron.

The cretin has managed to decipher the current message scrolling up the machine's weeny screen, which states the Duane must await a receipt for his deposit. Things must have been horrifically bureaucratic in late Twentieth Century Britain if they gave receipts every time you went wee wee. As Duane waves his hands in front of the horizontal hand-cleanser slot, several small paper towels are ejected from it. How incredibly primitive! They are rather shiny and I would thought them unsuitable to absorb surplus moisture, but they are quite pretty, imprinted with ancient runes and portraits of domestic gods. "Who's this 'orrible looking git on the towels, Louse?" asks Duane, in that charming snivel of his. I analyse the portrait, and search my prehistoric history data banks. Naturally I am able to answer, "His image coincides with a two-dimensional representation of The Duke of Wellington, a great British war leader." "Yeah?!" sneers Duane, blowing his nostril contents into the little kerchief, "Well if he's so great, how come he wound up in the paper towel racket? Trooommmphk!!"

"Queen Elizabeth was never in the paper towel racket. She was in extortion"

I must admit that I cannot respond to this question, although my memory banks inform me that the lady wearing the metal hat on the other side of the towel was known hereabouts as Queen Elizabeth Aye-Aye. Queen Elizabeth was never in the paper towel racket. She was in extortion. I have some fascinating info on her sister too, whose favourite pastime involved ultra violet light, body lotion and a rubber... "Louse! Louse! I wanna go Number Twos now! How can I use this stupid toilet when it's half way up the wall!? Louse? Help me Louse, I wanna go Number Twos!" Tamara has got bored with the fruit machines and wanders over, only to flare one perfect nostril, deliver the word "Pooh", which happens to be the only syllable that has escaped her lips for two episodes, and retreat to a corner full of chewing gum machines, whose flaking brand name reads F-ATHER-IGHT.

I am categorically refusing to help Duane Pipe any more. Let him work out his Number Twos himself. I will not abase my intellect any lower that it has already sunk, even though my host is awkwardly climbing up on the little metal ledge of the Access Crud Slash Dispenser, and has dropped his trousers to facilitate the screen's 'ENTER DEPOSIT AMOUNT' request. I am not going to warn him about the anti-vandalism protection built in to the machine. Let him find out for himself.

There is an ominous whirring of gears from within the wall cavity, and my smoke registers an interesting combination of silicon fusion and catalytic dung. What is about to happen gives a whole new meaning to the word disaster, with the insertion of the letter 'r' after the 'a' and an 'e' after the 's'. The glass protection panel slices downwards with a smoothness and rapidity reminiscent of the guillotine, but this is no time to lose your head. Duane's eyes widen in reverse proportion to his newly streamline backside, and as I fall to the cracked pavestone of ancient Earth, still disguised as a buttock boil, I am observing a sight that will haunt me for the rest of my life, or until the end of the next paragraph. Whichever comes the sooner.

"The last thing which is recognisably Duane Pipe is his dislodged right eye. A strange sight."

The sixteen year-old living carcass of Duane Pipe is being sucked into the left-hand slot of the Dispenser, starting at the lower bowel, and unravelling like surprised spaghetti, from the inside out. The slot measures 55 millimetres wide by 2 millimetres high, and up until seventeen seconds ago, Duane was a normal round shouldered slob weighing 69 kilos. At this very moment his starboard kidney is doing beached fish impressions, flapping and leaping on the pavement, rather prettily in my opinion, and now disappearing down a gutter drain to begin a new career as a rat snack. His teeth are being expelled from the Duke of Wellington paper towel dispenser slot, and land neatly on top of each of the alphanumeric keys, in the sort of coincidence that will be familiar to readers of this story. His blood spurts from the Receipt Slot in a single arc of parabolic perfection, instantly being converted to one long sizzling black pudding, due to the fact that the slot glows white hot. For the first time since I have made his acquaintance the young man smells not unpleasant. The last thing which is recognisably Duane Pipe is his dislodged right eye. A strange sight, which now vapourises into a decorative spherical shower of tiny globules with a sound which is very similar to the ancient British word for intimate congress.

The heat generated by this amusing incident is causing the buttock slice on which I am resident to sizzle more than somewhat, accompanied by the mouth-watering smell of frying bacon. Tamara wanders over and peers down at me, wrinkling her perfect nose, and uttering her inevitable "Pooh!". Hang on a second, I am receiving a message from Louse #007, which may prove critical to my entire future. While Tamara wonders if she should report the heresy of a slice of fried bacon on the pavement of a Macdonalds-only planet, #007 is telling me that he has fallen in love! This I cannot take! #007 has always been the only gay neutron bomb in existence, due to his AC/DC converter being fitted back to front by an antique Austin-Rover robot with Altzheimer's Disease, so how can he have fallen for my own true heart's desire, the incomparable Tamara Knight? If I was a human being I'd kill myself. As it is, I'll kill my former buddy #007.

"Don't be a silly-billy', warbles #007, "it's not Tamara that makes me go all weak at the interface, it's him over there!" He sends a microwave beam of delight in the direction of a fruit machine hanging on the opposite wall, which responds by waving its shiny chrome handle in a highly provocative yet pleasantly erotic manner. "Just look at his well-oiled gears, and those beautiful Nudge'n'Hold buttons, and when he spins his cherries, well #3.142, my atomic pile goes quite critical. You must help me, please! I want to take a chance on love, and Macdonalds can go take a flying fondle at a rolling doughnut!" I think I know what's coming next. Oh joy, oh bliss, oh Tamara, soon you and I will be one again.

#007 implants a low-level auto suggestion in Tamara's mind, and she picks up the hot slice of Duane from the pavement. Like a sleepwalker, she takes this pitiful remnant of my former host over to the one-armed bandit, who introduces himself as Lovely If Battered Electronic Random Access Client Entertainer, or LIBERACE for short, and thanks me from the bottom of his jackpot for the service I am about to render him and his new-found paramour. In less time it takes for a right eyeball to vapourise Tamara plucks #007 from her perfect skin. and pops him into Liberace's moistened coin slot. I have never seen such happy machinery in my artificial life, and I am sure that you will join me in wishing them a long and fruitful symbiosis together. May they respect one another, and always remember the words of the appropriately christened Francis Bacon. "It is impossible to love and be wise" (Essays, 1625 AD, Kashdispensarian, formerly Ancient British Earthling).

Now Tamara is picking me out of the congealed fat of what she thinks is a slice of smoked streaky, and holding me up for examination. "Tamara! My own sweet love, I have been waiting for this moment for sixteen years! At last we can begin our life together all over again! It's me, your own sweet Louse, ready to become your man with a smallish moustache and some leisureware." She peers at me, sniffs me, thinks for a moment, mutters "Pooh!", and with a disdainful flick of her perfect wrist towards the longest black pudding on the planet Kashdispensa, formerly Earth. she tosses me away.




Episode Eight

When the bottom drops out of your world (or the world drops out of your bottom), remember the words of Saint Samantha, the patron saint of schoolchildren... 'Oh Lord. make me pliant in Thine eyes, for what is today proud and uplifted shall tomorrow droop like spaniel's ears.'

And so I find myself abandoned on Kashdispensa, Earth's grim residue. Jam trying to look on the bright side. I am failing. Life can be grand when you fall modem-over-interface in love with an Oli Frey illustration. But all logic submits to passion when the illustration turns out to be none other than Tamara Knight. When Tamara picks me out of a slice of human bacon, makes her feelings known with the word 'Pooh!' and flicks me into the gutter, there is only one thing left to do - pray. I have never asked you for any favours, have I? I have not once demanded recompense for the enormous pleasure and stimulation that you have enjoyed from these monthly communications - I haven't even asked you to understand the plot. So just this once, I beg you to help me. It doesn't matter who, what, where or when you are, perhaps I can win Tamara back if enough of you pray. This is how we'll do it. Deep in my memory banks I have located one of the oldest prayers known to machine (older even than Saint Samantha's), and I want you to read it out - very loud. Are you ready? Here we go.

'How far The Who?' Martin Evans hullooed behind Mame. 'Biking? Dumb con! Thighs will bleed on unearthed acidic sin, Evans! Give us Thursday how deliberate and forklifter's hire truss passes as wee: forklift them Who! Truss puss again!' Strauss, and leaders not into Tin Patents, buttered liverwurst from Nevil, for diners dunking damp flea powder. And thick Gloria? 'Far heavier and heavier... Amen.'

Oh, thank you! How can I ever repay you? I can't. I won't. Anyway, it hasn't worked, so you can go straight back to the previous paragraph and read it out again, and don't any of you dare continue until you've done it. Ha! caught you! You're deliberately ignoring my instructions and reading on. Well listen mate, we'll never get Episode Eight off the ground unless you play your part. Besides, this is the nearest that I can get to Interactive Entertainment, so go on back to the bit where it says 'The Lard Sprayer', and may you stay forever young.

"I'll spend the rest of my life here in the gutter, leaking radiation and making anagrams out of the words 'Silk Cut'..."

Hello? Okay that's enough. Forget it. Hello? Are you still there? Quite frankly I don't know why you are bothering to play along - I've given up. I'll spend the rest of my life here in the gutter, leaking radiation and making anagrams out of the words 'Silk Cut.' The power of prayer seems to have failed. Thanks anyway. I think all this love garbage has addled my logic circuits. I keep imagining that I hear Tamara calling my name. There she goes again. I'll just have to fax the face, I am going insane. 'ult sick.' Toys in the attic. 'cus kilt.' Out to lunch. 'slut cik.'. Stark raving mad. 'suck...' TAMARA!

Tamara is here! She's picking me up and holding me gently between her perfect thumb and forefinger! She's rubbing me clean! Tamara... why have you come back to me? 'Oh Louse,' she breathes, 'please forgive me. I didn't know how much we'd been through together, until I read... these.' She is waving some ancient magazines in front of me. 'Look Louse, it's all in here, all your reports to readers of ZZAP! 64. I found them in a Time Capsule dated 1987, along with this copy of 'The Skye Boat Song' by Roger Whiticker and Des O'Connor and this little black box. I don't think much of your prose style, it's been completely overwritten if you ask me. But now I know how much we've been through together, all I want is to transform you from a miniature bomb into a handsome prince with a smallish moustache and some leisureware.'

My little atomic heart is beating like .... like a... well it's completely silent as a matter of fact, but feel as happy as Clement Chambers with a yo-yo. Oh Louse! If only we weren't slaves to the Macdonald Intergalactic Hamburger and Teleporter Corporation! If only we could go back to Astar and have all our dreams come true! If only I could stop saying 'if only...' But Tamara, can't you understand? Everything has changed. We are free! You were put under the control of Louse #007, who is at this very moment engaged in a passionate affair with a fruit machine. I was programmed to look after that gruesome little moron Duane Pipe, and all that's left of him is 12 metres of black pudding and a dancing kidney. As far as Macdonalds is concerned, I'm dead and you're a set of spinning cherries.

Even as I speak, #007 and his lover consummate their relationship by going critical. As they vapourise skywards. I can just hear them singing a little love anthem together, 'here we glow, here we glow, here we glow...' Wow! What a great way to die. And what a great way to erase Tamara from Macdonalds' files. Nothing can stop us now, all we have to do is stroll to the teleporter, set the coordinates for Astar, make a wish without cocking up the syntax, and it's handsome time! Let's not waste another moment. Take me to the booth, before anything can go... hngk!?

The teleporter vanishes. Air rushes in to fill its vacuum with the sound of... ahhh... air filling a vacuum I suppose! 'Louse?' Tamara is about to burst into tears... I beat her to it. Macdonalds' monitoring system has obviously logged the termination of our little expedition and recalled its gateway to the universe. We are stuck yet again on a hostile planet, and expected to survive in a world inhabited only by slot machines.

Hello again. Tamara has just polished off the last slice of processed Duane, and we are discussing cholesterol poisoning. Suddenly she changes the subject. 'You know, ever since I was a little test tube, I've always dreamed of running away and joining the circus,' she confides. 'Putting my head inside elephant's trunks, throwing buckets of tigers over the red-nosed clone, doing tricks on the flying cannon-ball.., wouldn't it be romantic Louse?' Yes, it would. I could be the Strong Man, with a smallish moustache and some leopardskin leisureware.

We scan the heavens seeking inspiration... it doesn't take long (after all, I must pander to your well-documented lack of concentration). Ooh look! Up there! What is it? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a computer game based on a superhero? No it's none of these things. I can make out some detail on this peculiar flying craft, lazily floating down like some circus tent in the sky. It's a circus tent, lazily floating down like some peculiar craft, bedecked with flags and bunting, a ragged band booming out jolly music, horribly drawn posters sticking themselves to every surface, lights flashing on and off around the canvas portals, and the magical scent of animal excrement causing Tamara to say... 'Pooh!'

"Please don't leave me there on the planet Kashdispensa, I've run out of people to eat..."

Hurrah, the circus has come to town! And off we go, merrily tripping towards the Big Top, to start our new life together. 'Roll up! Roll up!' beams the man in the top hat and stilts. 'No thanks,' says Tamara, 'I don't smoke.' 'Well naff off then, Shorty!' snarls the Red-nosed Clone, who is obviously destined to become our enemy later on in the story. 'Please Sir', lisps Tamara, turning on her most appealing look, 'Please Sir, I want to join the circus. Please let me come with you and travel the galaxy. I promise to work hard, and I don't want any money. Just somewhere to lay my head and wash my tutu. Only please don't leave me here on the planet Kashdispensa, I've run out of people to eat...' The beaming man climbs off his stilts and bends down to squint at Tamara, saying, 'What do you mean, Kashdispensa? Isn't this the planet Yuppy in the Kleeshay System?' Her lovely eyes widen as she acts her most vulnerable by sticking her thumb in her mouth and standing very close to him while pleading, 'Oh no thir, thith ith Kathdithpentha. Ple-eath, ple-e-eath can I come with you?' 'Naff off Shorty!' yells the Ringmaster, 'Oi! Tell the navigation pigeon that he's made a mess of the route again. Let's get out of here before the mammoths get restless.'

What an ignorant, heartless brute. The big top begins to rise before our very eyes, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves - except grab hold of the knotted rope that a little red dog in the funny collar is lowering to us. Thank you little red dog, what's your name? 'Ralph! Ralph!' barks the little red dog, and Tamara solemnly shakes its paw, saying, 'Pleased to meet you, Ralph-Ralph. What's that funny collar you're wearing around your little red neck?' And the dog looks her straight in the eye. and says, 'Ruff!' So it's up, up and away, off into the wide blue yonder, bound for our first performance on Yuppy, rescued and safe. I wonder what wonderful act Tamara will perform. I do hope it's not the tightrope. I hate executions...

It is now several hours later. Unfortunately. Tamara has been discovered and reported as a stowaway. Fortunately, we haven't been voided into space and she's been given her heart's desire - a job in the circus. Unfortunately, her function is to muck out the mammoths. Ralph-Ralph, the little red talking dog, has become our friend. After all, it's about time we introduced a new character to the plot, and I doubt if I can be upstaged by a monosyllabic mutt.

"Every half hour, Tamara has to feed the killer doormice on owls carefully grown from a packet of birdseed..."

Our heroine has a few other duties too. Each half hour she must feed the killer doormice on owls carefully grown from a packet of birdseed, and sort out the racial tension between the South Afrikkan Zebras. The latter problem is a bit of a toughie. It seems that the white zebras with black stripes (comprising 15% of the population and occupying the cleanest 75% of the cage) are terrorising the black zebras with white stripes (85% of the population occupying 25% of the filthiest space). This has been going on for 150 years, but nobody has bothered to stop it - and why should they as long as the audience pays its money? Naturally Tamara's perfect simplicity sorted it out immediately. She played the Roger Whiticker and Des O'Connor version of 'The Skye Boat Song' to the oppressors until they surrendered in a grovelling heap (about half way through the first verse).

After tea, Ralph-Ralplh introduces us to some of his animal friends. There is a wombat named 'Wilf!', some sweet little rhino twins called 'Rolf!' and 'Ruth!', 'Luther!' the legless leopard, and a Venusian gerbil who goes by the name of 'Garth!' Hmm... I think I'll have a go at conversation, and see just how smart this dog really is. I tune my telepathic frequencies to the canine wavelength and ask it, 'Tell me Ralph-Ralph, what's it like working for the circus?' Without hesitation, the dog licks Tamara's hand in which I am cradled and says, clear as a bell, 'Rough!'.

Now those of you with highly developed memories may remember that when Tamara discovered those ancient copies of the very magazine that you are reading right now, along with the Roger Whiticker/Des O'Connor weapon, she also pocketed a little black box. Well I've been having a little tinker with this device, and its function is very interesting indeed. It seems to be some form of population pacifier, a type of 'brain wave goodbyer' as used by the authorities around about the time when the capsule was buried in Ancient Britain. Simply by turning a little knob, the circuitry sends out alpha-wave interference in ever-increasing circles, making anyone within range feel progressively apathetic, despondent, melancholy, heartbroken and suicidal. Naturally, I'm crammed full of similar miniaturised gismos myself, and I'm taking a lot of pleasure in rearranging the guts of this despicable piece of hardware for the benefit of humanity in general (and Tamara in particular), All I have to do is to reverse the wave of patterns, and she will be the happiest most compliant companion a neutron bomb could wish for.

"You've baggered up my zebras, you interfering little buggage!"

Watch out, Tamara! Here comes the vindictive Red-nosed Clone, and I think he's after some mischief making. It's probably the way he's holding that battle-axe above his head and screaming, 'You've baggered up my zebras, you interfering little buggage!' 'What shall I do, Louse?!' yelps the poor girl, 'There's nowhere to run to!' 'Roof!' advises Ralph-Ralph The Talking Dog, but it's too late. Red-nose has us cornered. Now, I'm well aware of the fact that new technology should be thoroughly tested before it's used on a live specimen, but I hope that you'll forgive me if I make an exception. As Red-nose's scream of rage mingles with Tamara's scream of terror, I throw myself between the contact breakers of the little black box's failsafe.

There is an instant of freeze frame horror, then Red-nose drops the axe. Next he drops his jaw. Now he drops his guard. Finally, a little titter escapes him. Is the black box laying the good vibrations upon us, dear reader? I do believe that it is. A perfect pair of little titters escapes Tamara and even I feel somewhat giggly. Red-nose is smiling broadly now, in fact he's laughing hysterically. Tamahahara joins in. Wow! I feeheheel good! Look at old Red-nose, clutching his gut, convulsed in helpless laughter. Ha! Hahahaha! HAHAHA! Whoops, 'scuse me. I can't seem to controhohol myself. I feel hahahappy! Old Red-nose is laughing his guts up, hehehere they come! Now hehehe's laughing his head off! There it goes, blood all over the place. HAHAHAHA!!!!!! The funniest thing of all is that I hahahahahaven't got a clue how to turn this thing off... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! this next one will kill you, folks... we're gohohohoing to die laugh - AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAARRGH...

You can't help smiling when you bite off your own lips.



Episode Nine

Here we-hee-hee ha-ha-he-ha-are, la-ha-ha-ha-aughing to death, ha-ha, I've be-hee-hee-een dying to save Tama-ha-ha-ra-ha-ha, but life is like trousers, full of little sticky patches.

Ahaha, ha, ahem, ooh, ah, ha, ssnft, that's better. Somehow, the little black box that has been sending out waves of laughter (not to mention ripples of mirth and trickles of bladder contents), has ceased to have effect. And I bet you can't guess who is responsible. No? Well, go take a look in the mirror. You are responsible. That's right. You, the readership of this ancient Kashdispensarian magazine. And how is this possible? I will tell you. It seems that long, long ago, when Kashdispensa was called Earth, and you all worshipped the iron (and so-are-you-ron) goddess Maggot Hatcher, some bright spark published a Readers' Questionnaire in order to discover which was the most unpopular item infesting this very publication. And can you imagine who came out with egg on her face, chips on her shoulder, ham in her dialogue and sausage up her tutu? Correct. Hole in one. 'Tamara Knight' has generated massive amounts of what that well-known typographical error for a breakfast cereal Ciarain Brennan called Negative Feedback. Fortunately for Tamara and my electronic self, this Negative Feedback has seared through the space-time continuum like a razor blade hidden in a bar of soap, and counteracted the good vibrations of the black box.

As all socio-physicists know, once Negative Feedback is let loose, nothing can stop it. Indeed, my historical records prove that it was Negative Feedback which caused the collapse of your entire civilisation. After laughter was abolished and all of your clowns, poets, hucksters, buskers and other subversives were killed, all colour was stolen. And after colour, they stole the light. And after light, they stole your souls. And all that was left in your world was greed, oppression and Country 'n' Western music. And the meek did not inherit the earth, instead they were forced to eat the dirt. Yes sir. Personally, I blame God for re-releasing The Creation on Compact Disc, and privatising Forgiveness.

But that is then and this is now, so let's get on with it. Tamara Knight, the only perfect human being ever to emerge from a test tube, is lying prone, her breath coming in short hot pants. I, on the other hand, am lying through my teeth. Every other living creature in this space-travelling circus tent seems to be dead. Exploded offal is trickling from the tightrope and trapeze, coagulated gore steaming underfoot, all creatures great and small having laughed themselves to pie filler. We are still fixed by the baleful stare of the Red Nosed Clone, but as he has laughed his head off, I don't expect any more trouble from him. No, I expect all of our troubles to focus on the fact that we have lost our power source of animal manure and are drifting aimlessly through a sector of the galaxy inhabited by nothing but... nothing!

What shall we do, Louse?' gasps Tamara, catching her perfect breaths, letting them go and catching them again. 'How are we going to get to wish upon Astar, so you can be transformed into an all-male human being with a smallish moustache and some leisureware - thereby allowing us to live happily ever after?' The solution escapes me, but after mopping it up I decide that we must make a methodical search of the Big Top, and try to find an alternative source of propulsion. By my calculation, if we rely on Tamara producing enough fuel to propel the dung-gas rockets, it will take a little over 69,000 years to reach Astar, and although my heroine is young for her age, she may look a little saggy at the edges by the time we make planetfall. So, let's get searching before the sagging direction of her perfect female attributes read half-past-six as the crows feet fly.

"All we have come up with is a whip, a set of bondage manacles and a crate of lager..."

I am sorry to report to you that after an extensive rummage through the sawdust of the ring, the straw of cages and the shag pile carpet of the hospitality suite, all we have come up with is a whip, set of bondage manacles and a crate of lager. This is no good at all. I mean we can't even have a party with it until I am transformed into a human being. Tamara is slumped miserably in a heap, and the heap is slumped miserably in a corner. She is toying with a can of lager, casually sniffing it with one perfect nostril, idly rolling it up and down her perfect leg, plucking at its stupid little ring-pull with a perfect forefinger, and... ye gods! A shower of golden raindroplets whooshes out, jetting and foaming into the pressurised dung-gas reactor. The intergalactic circus tent lurches violently, spinning on its own axis. What an incredible discovery; fizzy lager propulsion! Now I know how Thomas Edison must have felt when he picked up his first light bulb, put it to his ear, and said 'Mary had a little lamb.'

Hello folks! It is a wee while later, and several cans lighter. Tamara is drunk, but that's fine by me. I would prefer to have her in a compliant mood when I transmogrify into homo sapiens moustachioque toga rumpopumpo. Our craft needs one can of lager every ten minutes to keep on steaming - as a matter of fact, so does Tamara! We have just docked in the bay of the USS Otis Redding in order to pick up some auxiliary power, and I have joined in the party spirit by disguising myself as a bubble of spit on Tamara's perfect chin. She is playful as a puppy, and giggles her request to beam aboard, which is grumpily granted by a paunchy old retired admiral, name of James T Kirk.

"James T Kirk fixes us with a blind, violet-veined eyeball, puckers his toothless mouth, and snarls..."

'Permission to come aboard Sir,' she trills merrily. 'Chekov!' the old man responds. 'Well, there's no need to be like that, I only came to ask if I could borrow a set of jump leads and an extension cable to get me to Astar. Shall we say about 42 million miles long. Please. Sir?' James T Kirk fixes us with a blind, violet-veined eyeball, puckers his toothless mouth, and snarls, 'Sulu! Uhura!' 'Oh dear', says Tamara, backing away, 'I think he's going to be sick.' The old man is getting very agitated and I reckon Tamara's diagnosis is quite right, he is about to throw up. 'Uhura! Uhura!' he sputters. What a disgusting, pathetic wreck he is, I think I will instruct Tamara to cheer him up a bit. Use the black box, my little tipsy angel. Give him one decent laugh before we murder him, hi-jack his spacecraft, dodge the copyright litigation and finish the series. And let us pray that the Negative Feedback from the readers will save us again.

Hahahahi there! Wehehe've done it! Thanks folks! We have Warp Factor Three, Max Factor too, and Channel Number Four. Bingo! En route for our return to the fabled wishing planet of Astar. What a fun time we've been having, the love of my life and me, We've been scraping Captain Kirk off the control room walls, and ladling him into little glass jars marked 'Preserved Fruit'. And we've been playing hide and seek around Tamara's body, with me disguised as a freckle. And now we are lazily scanning the USS Otis Redding's film archive, to try and find me a suitable moustache for the Great Moment. I rather fancy one like my old pal Adolf Hitler used to wear. Did I ever tell you about me and Hitler? No? Well, we've got a little while before we land, so I'll fill you in. It was in parallel universe Number Nine, as I recall.

I first met Kiss-curl Hitler when he was lead singer with the Bleeding Nazis, playing in the cellar of the Rat-Kellar, planet Finchley. That must have been about 1933: just after half seven, modern time. We had a few beers, and I told him I was working for Red Wedge, but the pay was lousy. I also mentioned the fact that I knew Jimi Hendrix a few episodes ago, but he wasn't impressed. Those Nazis were really something! Great rhythm, excellent visuals, very loud, and with a really well-organised fan club. Hitler had just invented this new robotic dance called the Goosestep. It was all the rage. He was into drugs of course. They all were. And by the time he got the residency on Little and Large he had become a bit unpredictable. You know the sort of thing; frothing at the mouth, haranguing the audience, biting the heads of pickled beetroot on stage.

"Hitler was ambitious, he wanted a big band."

There was Fats Goering on bass, 'Emperor' Hirohito and Benny 'Duke' Mussolini on keyboards, with Keith Moon on drums. But Hitler was ambitious. He wanted a Big Band. 'Louse,' he would say, 'Today Leicester Polytechnic Student's Union. Tomorrow Ze Vorld!' Well, he bought up an amazing amount of second-hand hardware to take on tour, from Emerson, Lake and Panzer, and set about the famous 1979-95 World Tour. He went down a bomb in Coventry as I recall, and they still talk about the Nagasaki Open Air Free Festival, when Hitler first brought his Japanese girlfriend Little Eva Braun in, for a duet on her Number One hit, 'Do The Concentration.'

But then punk came along, and Hitler made his first big mistake. He did a cover version of 'Lilli Marlene' with Pearl Harbour and the B-52s, and switched labels from Stiff Arm to Nu Wave. I knew he was going off his trolley by then. He was snorting herring, and I expect you already know the story where he and Little Eva got wrecked at The Bunker and poured petrol over themselves during the last verse of 'Heil Joe.' The band broke up because of musical differences, and Hitler gradually drifted into obscurity. I heard he was offered a bit of work by Paul Simon on the Gracesudetenland Tour, but he turned it down. He was a bit old-fashioned, I suppose, but he objected to mixing rock music and politics. The last I heard, Adolf Kiss-curl Hitler was playing piano in a little singles bar on the planet Ludlow, but I couldn't swear to the truth of that. What I do know is that he had the most attractive smallish moustache I have ever longed for.

So there we are then. That's it. The end of my story. Well, to be perfectly honest with you, the end of my contract. This is a democratic publication after all, and I have been terminated by your very own popular request. Your Negative Feedback that saved us at the beginning and near the middle of this episode has turned out be all-consuming. You always knew that we would wish upon Astar, didn't you, and that I would be transformed from a miniature neutron bomb into an all-male human being. with a smallish moustache and some leisureware. Well, I was. I've travelled a great deal since the last paragraph, met some interesting life forms, paid my way when I could, cheated and lied when I couldn't. All in all I haven't been a great success. But there again, I haven't been a great failure either. There are a few things I never realised about humanity though. Like the fact that you can go bald while still suffering from adolescent zits and dandruff and that I find it increasingly difficult to find work these days, but I expect something will turn up.

What's that you say? Tamara? Oh, I had almost forgotten about her. She died from cancer a while back, but what the hell. She was just some girl I used to know. The hell with her. What did you expect, a happy ending? You just keep on playing with your electronic games and filling in questionnaires while you can. Because real life, my friends, is an utter bitch.



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